Understand how we got here — and how to move forward.


September 13, 2017

Can the new Apple Watch detect heart problems? Stanford and American Well want to find out

Daily Briefing

Apple on Tuesday unveiled a new version of its Apple Watch with updated heart monitoring technology and announced that it will work with clinicians at Stanford and telemedicine vendor American Well to test whether the device can detect cardiac abnormalities.

Get the slides: Telehealth industry trends for 2017

The new Apple Watch, called the Series 3, will be available later this month.

Apple's newest watch

The Series 3 watch includes an updated heart rate sensor and an updated heart rate app that measures resting heart rate, workout, and recovery. Apple COO Jeff Williams said users will have the choice of whether to receive notifications when their resting heart rate is elevated above its baseline rate.

The upgrade also aims to alert users when they have an arrhythmia, which can be a sign of a serious heart conditions—such as atrial fibrillation, or Afib, which can increase the risk of blood clots and strokes. According to Fortune, because some people with Afib don't experience symptoms, individuals with the condition often go undiagnosed.

If the Series 3 proves effective at detecting Afib, it could be "useful screening tool for high-risk patients," CNBC reports. Bob Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said, "Atrial fibrillation is a common rhythm disorder, and knowing someone has it is medically useful because those people might need specific treatments."

Apple to study Watch's potential as heart rate sensor

On Tuesday, Apple also confirmed plans to team up with Stanford and American Well test whether the Series 3 watch can serve as a replacement for traditional heart rate sensors, and particularly whether it can accurately identify irregular heart rates. The Apple Heart Study is scheduled to start later this year, according to an individual who asked to remain anonymous.

If the watch achieves its aims, it could become a "'must have' for millions of people worldwide," Christina Farr writes for CNBC.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told Fortune, before the study plans were confirmed, that one goal for the Apple Watch was "performing some measurements of your health that people were not measuring, at least continually. Like your heart. Very few people wore heart monitors. We're extremely interested in this area. And yes, it is a business opportunity."

Cook added that the medical health activity market is the "largest or second-largest component" of the economy.

American Well declined to comment on its work with Apple, according to CNBC. However, American Well CEO Roy Schoenberg said telemedicine companies are working closely with makers of wearables. When a wearable technology detects a potential problem, "the best route forward is to put a health care professional out in front," he said (Farr, CNBC, 9/11; Baum, MedCity News, 9/12; Mukherjee, Fortune, 9/12;  Sweeney, FierceHealthcare, 9/12; Stangel, Silicon Valley Business Journal, 9/12) .

Telehealth 101: Get the primer series

Need to get up to speed on the top issues in telehealth? Each installment in our primer series includes emerging trends, investment considerations, and case studies from top organizations, focusing on top areas such as:

  • Behavioral health
  • Billing and reimbursement
  • Chronic disease management
  • ICU
  • Orthopedics
  • Wearables
  • Download all 10 Primers

    Have a Question?


    Ask our experts a question on any topic in health care by visiting our member portal, AskAdvisory.