Apple continues to team up with researchers, adds to its wearables in 2021

Apple has been in the digital health game for some time. The Silicon Valley titan isn’t just developing new consumer-facing tools, but also partnering with some of the biggest names in academia to research ways to use tech to monitor health. 

In 2021, Apple continued to expand its COVID-19 efforts, wearable offerings and research partnerships. Read on for some highlights of Apple’s health moves in 2021.

Apple’s COVID-19 efforts 

From the early days of the pandemic, Apple was looking to develop COVID-19 related tools. For example, in 2020 it updated Siri with a new conversation triage tool for COVID-19, rolled out an online screening tool in partnership with the CDC and developed a contact-tracing tool with Google

Efforts to help customers navigate the pandemic have continued into 2021. In March, Apple Maps launched a new feature to help folks find vaccination centers near them through the VaccineFinder tool, created by Boston Children’s Hospital with CDC support.

Apple also announced that it was tightening its policy on COVID-19 vaccine passes, requiring developers to work with “entities recognized by public health authorities” before submitting to Apple. 

In April, Apple Maps began displaying coronavirus airport travel guidance on airport place cards. The initiative incorporates data from Airports Council International, and provides information about regulations and health measures such as face coverings, tests and quarantines.

Apple in wearables 

In early 2021, Apple announced that its newly launched Fitness+ subscription would be adding a new feature called Time to Walk, which showcases a large amount of celebrity audio content for listening while walking. The celebrities featured include everyone from Dolly Parton to Prince William.

Apple also announced it was expanding its fitness offerings with a new option for bikers to track their workouts. The Apple Watch can also detect biking-related falls. 

This year we’ve seen Apple spend some time in the disability space. In May, the company released a slew of new software features across its operating systems designed for people with mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive disabilities. One of the systems, AssistiveTouch for Apple Watch, lets users navigate an on-screen cursor through gestures. Actions like pinching or clenching can be used to answer phone calls or get notifications. 

Apple’s health efforts may be expanding to its AirPods. According to a Wall Street Journal article, the company is looking to incorporate body-temperature and posture monitoring into its earbuds. 

Apple has been in the digital health game for some time. The Silicon Valley titan isn’t just developing new consumer-facing tools, it’s partnering with some of the biggest names in academia to research how tech can be used to monitor health. 

In 2021, Apple continued to expand its COVID-19 efforts, wearable offerings and research partnerships.  

Apple’s research efforts 

Apple is working on a number of research efforts to look at how digital biomarkers can give providers a peek into someone’s health. In January, Apple announced it is teaming up with biotech company Biogen to conduct a multiyear research study on cognitive decline using Apple Watch and iPhone.

The partnership’s goal is to establish digital biomarkers for monitoring cognitive health. Later in the year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was also working with UCLA on using digital biomarkers to detect depression. 

Apple Watch has a long history in the cardiology space, and this year continued the tradition. A PLoS One study reported that iPhones and Apple Watches could enable at-home assessment of cardiovascular-disease patients’ frailty through sensor data and an app-guided version of a six-minute walk test.

Researchers at Mount Sinai found that Apple Watches were able to find heart rate variability changes before a COVID-19 diagnosis. 

Canada-based University Health Network (UHN) announced that it was launching an academic study on heart-health monitoring through Apple Watch. 

Apple Watch’s involvement with studies hasn’t just been focused on heart health. In March, Apple and the University of Michigan released preliminary data from the Apple Hearing Study, which was launched in 2019. The study found that 25{eca2258439cb6473656e03a2d3e6b84304b35fc01c093883e008a47bacba1047} of participants were exposed to noise that was over WHO’s recommended daily limit daily. 

The tech giant is also involved in studies about women’s health. Apple and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health announced their plans to collaborate on the Apple Women’s Health Study, which is aimed at understanding more about periods in women across demographics and lifestyles. 

Updates to the iPhone 

In June, Apple announced a new health sharing feature that gives patients the reins in sharing consumer-generated health data with their doctors, family and friends. Users can share information, including everything from mobility trends to heart data.

They can also choose to share lab results with a provider or a loved one. In order to share with a doctor, Apple is able to integrate with a handful of EHRs. 

At this time, Apple added a real-time assessment of walking stability and fall risk, and a new tool for tracking health trends over time. Users are now able to share that data with family and providers. 


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