The Apple Watch is popular, but a new long-term study might shed light on whether the device can also be a meaningful health tool.
The Apple Watch is part fashion statement, part productivity device and part fitness monitor. But its ability to serve as a practical and useful healthcare tool remains an open question.
Now, researchers at the University of Michigan are embarking on a long-term study to find out whether and how the health data generated by the device can be turned into meaningful healthcare insights. The results of the study could be an important signal as to whether the revolution in wearable technology will become a revolution in healthcare anytime soon.
The study, titled Michigan Predictive Activity and Clinical Trajectories (MIPACT), will combine health and movement data tracked by participants’ Apple Watches with patient medical records and self-reported quality-of-life data to generate a better understanding of wellness and disease, the study’s investigators say.
Study lead Sachin Kheterpal, M.D., MBA, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the university’s medical school, says the goal is to get a broad picture of patient health.
“Fundamentally, improving health and wellness requires a comprehensive approach both in practice and research,” he tells Inside Digital Health™. “That’s why it’s important to consider a holistic view of the participant including wearable data, but also electronic health records, standard laboratory testing, participant survey data, genetic information and other clinical data.”
The goal isn’t just to better understand patients’ health but also the extent to which wearables and other patient data can predict health.
“We hope to understand the role of wearable mobile devices in predicting the onset of common health conditions and understanding the health trajectories of participants with these conditions,” he said.
MIPACT is slated to enroll 1,000 patients over three years. The study is already underway. Enrollees receive an Apple Watch Series 4 as an incentive to participate. So far, investigators have met their enrollment targets, though Kheterpal says they’re waiting to see how enrollee engagement changes — or not — over time.
“As with all studies, we hope that all participants will continue participating in the study for the entire duration, and we understand there will be a natural decline in participation over this three-year period,” he says. “We hope that our efforts to build a bidirectional relationship with the participant community will enable us to maximize engagement throughout the study duration.”
That bidirectional relationship involves sharing clinical and other information with patients, which Kheterpal says will create a more collaborative relationship than is common in most scientific studies.
In addition to providing patients with better health insights, the success of MIPACT could also translate to a much-needed infusion of scientific rigor into the discussion of health wearables.
“In general, the evidence base to support most novel health interventions, whether wearables or core medical devices, needs to improve,” he said. “This project is one effort to address the lack of reliable data in this area.”
Kheterpal said the university, along with industry partners like Apple, is focused on creating reliable evidence to show how novel technologies like the Apple Watch can be leveraged to improve patient health.
“Most importantly, we need to work with real-world participants that reflect the diversity of the patient experience,” he said. “Creating generalizable knowledge using diverse datasets requires investment and focus.”
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