Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect an official announcement from Apple.
Apple CEO Tim Cook says the Apple Watch has saved lives by detecting heart rate irregularities. He’s about to test the merits of that claim by examining ways in which the company’s newest wearable can influence cardiac care.
Apple is reportedly collaborating with American Well and Stanford to test the heart rate sensors on the new Apple Watch to detect cardiac abnormalities, according to CNBC. The collaboration has not been officially announced, but some believe the wearable could become an important screening tool.
Earlier this year, Stanford’s School of Medicine launched five new research projects involving 1,000 Apple Watches through its new Center for Digital Health. Apple is holding an event on Tuesday where it plans to unveil updates to the iPhone and Apple Watch.
It’s clear the consumer technology giant is showing a greater interest in health and wellness, although some are still skeptical that wearables like the Apple Watch can have a significant impact on a complex healthcare system. Although a recent study by the Health eHeart initiative, overseen by researchers at the University of California San Francisco, showed the heart rate monitoring app Cardiogram could detect irregularities with 97% accuracy, there has been little clinical evidence on the effectiveness of wearables. Previous studies show wearables often struggle with accuracy and patient engagement.
On Twitter, Jay Parkinson, M.D., the founder and CEO of the online doctor platform Sherpaa, raised concerns that the partnership between Apple and American Well could lead to unnecessary testing and higher healthcare costs.
Depending on sensitivity and specificity of the Apple Watch afib test, this may lead to overtesting, overcomplications, increased expenses.— jayparkinson (@jayparkinson) September 12, 2017
Or not. But a Watch test is no different than any test. All tests must be held to the same standard, even if they're "sexy tech" tests.— jayparkinson (@jayparkinson) September 12, 2017
Show me an AmWell doc who will say "nah, no need for further testing. The Watch test is a false positive. No need to see a cardiologist."— jayparkinson (@jayparkinson) September 12, 2017
And cardiologists will ❤️ it because they make a ton of money from working up false positives.— jayparkinson (@jayparkinson) September 12, 2017
In an interview with Fortune, Cook claimed that Apple Watch has saved “a not insignificant number” of lives after users brought their heart rate data to their doctor before it was too late.
“One of the things that we’ve learned that we’ve been really surprised and delighted about is this device, because of the monitoring of the heart, has essentially alerted people through the collection of the data that they have a problem,” he told Fortune.
Cook also confirmed that Apple is “extremely interested” in healthcare, which he sees as a “business opportunity" for the company.
Update: During an Apple event on Tuesday, Apple COO Jeff Williams officially announced Apple's partnership with Stanford to study the ability to detect atrial fibrillation using the new Apple Watch.