Apple, along with U.S. health insurer Anthem, is preparing to launch a study that seeks to determine whether digital tools like Apple Watch can help manage and control asthma.
Announced on Tuesday during Apple’s “Time Flies” hardware launch event, the study will tap into Apple Watch Series 6 blood oxygen sensor data and other health metrics collected by the device.
According to CNBC, U.C. Irvine will conduct a two-year virtual, or remote, study of 900 people with asthma between the ages of 18 and 64. Participants will be required to have a health plan through Anthem or its subsidiaries. Health technology company CareEvolution is in charge of collecting and analyzing resulting data.
Some participants will be supplied with a Beddit sleep monitor and an Apple Watch Series 6 to track a variety of health metrics including heart rate, general activity levels and blood oxygen levels. A control group will not use the Apple devices.
Blood oxygen monitoring is accomplished by a new sensor deployed in the Series 6. Four LED clusters and four photodiodes integrated into a redesigned back crystal emit green, red and infrared light into a user’s wrist to glean the color of their blood. Determining blood color allows Watch to calculate blood oxygen levels, an indicator of lung function, a body’s ability to efficiently absorb oxygen, and other health measures.
Members of the active group — those with Beddit and Apple Watch — will feed data points like daily symptoms and triggers into a “digital asthma tool.” This information is used to generate behavioral “nudges.” Educational material about how to better manage asthma will also be supplied to participants, the report says. The effort includes videos voiced by Dr. Mike Evans, a YouTube personality who has worked with Apple since 2016.
“We hope this study can help the medical community produce new insights about asthma control and can identify effective digital tools that can help empower people around the world to better manage their condition,” Myoung Cha, Apple’s Head of Health Strategic Initiatives, said in a statement.
The asthma study will be a first for Apple, though the company has long been investigating technology that could impact how people live with the condition. Last year, for example, Apple purchased asthma monitoring startup Tueo Health. The CEO of that company, Bronwyn Harris, is thought to still work at Apple’s health arm.
As noted in the report, Apple could be seeking to legitimize a new type of “digital biomarker” related to asthma. Such a development might prompt Anthem and other insurers to subsidize the cost of hardware like Apple Watch as a customer benefit.