Apple’s health initiatives date back to 2014, which marked the launch of its HealthKit and the Health app for iOS. Since then, it’s partnered with institutions including the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins through its ResearchKit platform to conduct large-scale studies using data collected from iOS device users. And today, it gave an update on a few of those and other health efforts today during an event in Cupertino, California.
The new Apple Watch Series 4 shows nutritional information at a glance. A watchface — Breathe — guides you through one of three breathing exercises. And thanks to next-gen accelerometer and gyroscope units that measure forces up to 32g it can automatically detect when you fall.
“One of the most common injuries is falls,” said Apple chief operating officer Jeff Williams.
The Apple Watch Series 4 delivers an alert when it detects you’ve made contact with the ground, and surfaces a one-tap notification that can place a call to emergency services. And if you’re immobile for more than one minute, it automatically calls 911 and sends a message containing your location to loved ones via Apple’s SOS feature.
The Apple Watch Series 4 also has three new heart monitoring features.
One sends a notification if your heart rate is determined to be too low. The second screens for heart rhythm irregularities that appear to be atrial fibrillation. And the third allows you to record electrocardiograms (ECG) with the Watch’s digital crown and sapphire back.
Recordings take less than 30 seconds and are saved in PDF format for easy exporting. Apple claims the Apple Watch Series 4 is the first ECG product offered over the counter directly to consumers and the first of its kind to receive clearance from the FDA.
Today’s announcements follow on the heels of Apple Watch-related health news in May, at Apple’s 2018 WorldWide Developer Conference. The Cupertino company demoed new workout types, improved activity tracking, and automatic workout detection in watchOS 5.
One thing that wasn’t announced today: a new in-house chip for biometrics. In August, CNBC uncovered job postings from Apple’s Health Sensing hardware team that hinted at a processor for health data management. If today’s event is any indication, the chip — if there is such a chip — won’t make it into this year’s Apple Watch.
HealthKit, at its core, is a repository for health data — metrics like weight, steps, blood pressure, and heart rate. One of Apple’s earliest HealthKit partners was Nike, which worked to integrate its health and fitness apps with the platform.
In November 2017, Apple partnered with Stanford on a study that sought to predict defect atrial fibrillation (AFib) in patients. Using the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor, it invited wearers who may have an irregular heart rate to attend a free medical consultation and be fitted with an electrogram (ECG) patch for continued monitoring.
“Through the Apple Heart Study, Stanford Medicine faculty will explore how technology like Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor can help usher in a new era of proactive health care central to our Precision Health approach,” Lloyd Minor, dean of Stanford University School of Medicine, said at the time.
iOS 11.3 brought with it an electronic health record initiative (via an updated Health app) that attempts to unify medical data from multiple hospitals, clinics, and providers in one place. (Those on board included Johns Hopkins Medicine, Cedars-Sinai, Penn Medicine, and more than 70 other institutions.) The new and improved Health app shows notifications when data about allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures, vitals are updated, and adheres to FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources), a standard for transferring electronic medical records.
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