Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) this week announced the launch of the Health eHeart Study, which is leveraging mobile health apps and connected consumer medical devices in an effort to track and monitor 1 million people in real-time. The study received significant attention this week thanks to a report in the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.). What's been largely unreported so far is the specific devices and apps that the study researchers are employing to enable this hoped for massive, real-time tracking. It also went largely unreported that the study is being funded -- so far -- by the Salesforce.com Foundation.
According to videos and other reports on the UCSF study site, some Health eHeart study participants will use Azumio's Instant Heart Rate app or Azumio's Stress Check app to track and record their heart rates. Others will use AliveCor's Heart Monitor (formerly known as the iPhone ECG), which recently received FDA clearance for prescription use. Unlike the other devices the study is leveraging, AliveCor's actually records and transmits a user's EKG. According to a video on the UCSF site, iHealth's latest Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuff is also being used by study participants. Finally, a heart rate monitor watch that UCSF's news center described as one made by Boston Scientific is also in the mix, (but such a watch is hard to confirm elsewhere and we have a line out to UCSF and others to confirm this watch's existence and if not Boston Scientific, its true maker).
The Wall Street Journal report also notes that a handful of unnamed smartphone apps are being used in the study. It reports that one leverages GPS on the user's phone to track whether a study participant is at a fast food restaurant, shopping at a farmer's market, or at a hospital (FourSquare?). The report also says the study includes an app that enable users to take pictures of the food they eat that automatically estimates caloric content of the food in those pictures (MealSnap?).
The Wall Street Journal report deftly positions UCSF's effort as a parallel to the long-running, famous Framingham Heart Study. UCSF's Chief of Cardiology Jeffrey Olgin said the Health eHeart Study is a large scale digital version of the Framingham Heart Study, which has been going on for 65 years now. Notably, Framingham participants only have heart rate data collected one every two years. UCSF aims to continuously track data from its participants.
While Framingham's lead Daniel Levy told the Wall Street Journal that he can see a potential role for digital technology to aid heart health research, he said his team would want to explore issues around privacy before adding such tools to their study.