Stanford kicks off Apple Heart Study to screen and virtually triage patients with irregular heartbeats

wearable smartwatch
Stanford's Lloyd Minor said the study "can help usher in a new era of proactive healthcare central to our precision health approach.”

Stanford Medicine and Apple have officially kicked off a research initiative test looking into how the Apple Watch can identify users experiencing irregular heart rhythms and virtually connect them with a physician.

The partnership, which includes the telemedicine company American Well, was announced by Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams during a company event in September. On Thursday, Apple announced the official launch of the research project that was created due to a large volume of letters and emails to the company from Apple Watch users who claimed the device helped them identify a previously undiagnosed heart condition. Leaders at both Stanford and Apple hope the study will identify ways to advance early detection of potentially fatal heart conditions. 

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“These stories inspire us and we're determined to do more to help people understand their health,” Williams said in the announcement. “Working alongside the medical community, not only can we inform people of certain health conditions, we also hope to advance discoveries in heart science.”

In an interview with CNBC, Williams added that he hopes the study “can save a lot of lives,” but noted that the device is intended to screen for, rather than diagnose, abnormalities.

According to a landing page updated by Stanford Medicine, the study is open to U.S. residents 22 years or older that have not been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and own at least an iPhone 5S and a Series 1 Apple Watch. The study will last 15 months and users can enroll by downloading an app. 

Loyld Minor, dean the Stanford University School of Medicine, said the Apple Heart Study will help medical researchers “explore how technology like Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor can help usher in a new era of proactive healthcare central to our precision health approach.”

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American Well’s participation in the research initiative, marks the first time a telehealth company is involved in a mobile clinical trial. Once the Apple Watch detects an irregular heart rhythm, the user will be virtually connected to an American Well physician.

That trigger provides an immediate opportunity for participants to speak with a doctor, who can assess the data and determine whether the patient needs immediate medical care or a follow-up consultation.

“This study is the first to bring connected care to clinical research, moving the cycle from the hospital to the home through a combination of wearables, analytics, telehealth and consumer devices,” Ido Schoenberg, chairman and CEO of American Well, said in a statement emailed to FierceHealthcare. “We see this as the beginning of a revolution that will save lives through early detection and more precise treatment, with applicability to many chronic conditions and millions of people.”