Study seeks to prevent strokes with Apple Watch, Cardiogram HealthKit-enabled app

in Apple Watch edited March 2016
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, in partnership with developers of Apple Watch app Cardiogram, are conducting a study to determine whether heart rate sensing hardware in consumer devices can detect atrial fibrillation, a serious medical condition that can lead to stroke.

Using off-the-shelf smartwatches, limited to Apple Watch and Android Wear devices, a team of researchers from the UCSF Health eHeart study and software engineers from Cardiogram created a deep learning algorithm it hopes will one accurately detect atrial fibrillation. To reach that goal, the project, designated mRhythm Study, needs data.

Cardiogram cofounder Brandon Ballinger told AppleInsider that over the past few months the team developed a preliminary machine learning algorithm capable of detecting AF using consumer grade heart rate sensors. Ballinger, along with fellow cofounder Johnson Hsieh, are now working toward a more complex algorithm they believe will yield more accurate results.

At mRhythm's core, the semi-supervised deep learning algorithm is capable of "learning" from users both with and without heart conditions. Ballinger said data will be aggregated from participants with advanced EKG monitors like those from AliveCor -- the company announced an Apple Watch band called Kardia earlier today -- as well as users with vanilla Apple Watch hardware.

Like other recent medical studies leveraging Apple's hardware, mRhythm is integrated with the HealthKit framework. On iOS, for example, the app pulls and organizes data from the Health app to provide a top-down view of heart rate trends and granular analysis of the heart's reaction to outside stimulus.

"This is the very first baby step to using the Apple Watch as a medical device that can affect people's lives," Ballinger said. "We've been incredibly impressed with the work Apple put in and the little details it got right."

mRhythm officially kicked off on Wednesday and researchers expect to publish results in a peer-reviewed journal by year's end. Apple Watch owners interested in taking part in the study can download the Cardiogram app for free from the App Store and sign up online.


  • Reply 1 of 6
    leesmithleesmith Posts: 120member
    He's dead Jim. No, his Apple Watch battery just ran out again.
  • Reply 2 of 6
    levilevi Posts: 344member
    leesmith said:
    He's dead Jim. No, his Apple Watch battery just ran out again.
    I enjoyed the comment. In all seriousness though, this and the ECG strap are exciting developments
  • Reply 3 of 6
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,729member
    This is great. This is the beginning of what will make the AW a huge success - when everyone over 55 will wear one as a medical accessory. 
  • Reply 4 of 6
    Is this an anonymous study?  I went to the App Store to download and read the privacy policy and program FAQ and it is unclear. 

    While led this study is working with academia, it somehow reads like a commercial enterprise. 

    The owners of the study need to be a little more transparent on this issue. 
  • Reply 5 of 6
    koopkoop Posts: 337member
    I think these things are all super cool. I have a fitbit which has a heart rate monitor and it's always interesting to see how your pulse changes throughout the day and at night. I can only imagine the next step would be to have software algorithms check for patterns that would indicate a risk of a stroke or heart attack just by that type of data alone. Wearing smart devices might be able to save our lives in the next 10 years or so. They could even automatically call for emergency dispatch and with GPS direct them to where the incident is occurring.
  • Reply 6 of 6
    While I like the goal of the study, I too have concerns about privacy. I went to where they ask you to install the third party app Cardiogram from the App Store and then signup for the mRhythm Study. When you install the app it asks for permission to access your health data and then it prompts you to setup an account by signing in with your Facebook, Twitter or email account. The "More Info" link tells you that you can delete your data at any time by emailing [email protected] and then has a link to their Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Why would I want to store my health data on the web?!? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of HealthKit keeping your private data secure on your personal iPhone? Delete (app). I would be more inclined to join a ResearchKit based study where it is well defined how they anonymize the data and who you are giving your data to.
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