Apple doubles down on heart rate monitoring with upcoming Apple Watch update; announces Stanford study

By Dave Muoio
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Among Apple’s many device and technology reveals today was an announcement that new health managing software would be built into Apple Watches. Starting Sept. 19, fitness-focused heart rate monitoring will be brought to the face of the watch, alongside warning notifications if an elevated heart rate is detected during a period of inactivity. 

The consumer electronics giant will be using this functionality to amass clinical data through a program that they call the Apple Heart Study. In conjunction with Stanford University researchers, Apple will use the sensors built into Apple Watches to observe and analyze arrhythmias. Apple has also been in conversation with the FDA about the study.

The ability of the Apple Watch to monitor heart rhythms has previously been established in a study by Cardiogram, a startup focused on that very thing. They found in May that the Watch could detect atrial fibrilation with 97 percent accuracy.

Apple COO Jeff Williams said during the company’s keynote presentation that the Watch has been “effective” in identifying irregular rhythms during the company’s internal investigations, which led them to pursue the study.

“The challenge is, many people with [atrial fibrillation] don’t feel symptoms, so it often goes undiagnosed,” Williams said today. “We’ve been looking at this for a couple years, and we think Apple Watch can help.”

Williams' assertion that Apple has been working on this for a couple years -- and the involvement of the FDA -- suggests that the Apple Watch, with this software, could be one of the cardiac devices that MobiHealthNews exclusively reported Apple was discussing with the FDA in July 2016.

Apple Watch is the most frequently used heart rate monitor in the world, Williams said, and has a customer satisfaction rating of 97 percent.

The Apple Watch’s heart rate monitor app will be updated to include resting and recovery heart rate information throughout the day. In addition, Williams broke down a redesign of the Apple Watch’s fitness software, which, along with lap timing tools for athletes, will include the ability to sync metrics by tapping the watch to other devices.

Each of these additions will be included in the Apple Watch OS4 update, scheduled for Sept. 19, 2017. The company also announced the new iteration of their smartwatch, Apple Watch Series 3, which will be released on Sept. 22 at a cost of $399 with cellular service and $329 without.