Apple Positions Its Smartwatch as a Medical Monitor

Posted in Mobile Health by Brian Buntz on September 10, 2015

Health monitoring was featured prominently at the most recent Apple Event on September 9 in San Francisco. The company demonstrated how the Apple Watch can be used to help monitor fetal health and its ability to help physicians monitor patients remotely.

Brian Buntz

Apple Watch with AirStrip One

It was something of a surprise that health monitoring was featured so prominently in Apple’s product announcement on September 9, in which the tech giant also unveiled a bigger iPad, new versions of iPhones, and an upgrade of its Apple Watch operating system.

“One of the first people on the stage at Apple’s announcement was Cameron Powell, MD, co-founder of AirStrip Technologies, who discussed the impact that the new iOS watch can have of healthcare,” says Morgan Reed, executive director of the App Association (Washington D.C.), which counts companies like Facebook, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, as well as AirStrip Technologies as members.

Powell’s talk demonstrated how the latest software for the Apple Watch can be used with AirStrip technology to allow an expectant mother to hear their child’s heartbeat on the device. The technology can not only distinguish a fetus’s heartbeat from that of its mother’s, but also enable expectant mothers to send vital signs data to physicians remotely. Physicians can access that data and a variety of other health metrics in near real time, including ECG data, patient alerts from nurses, vital sign summaries, and lab results. 

“What is really groundbreaking here is that achieving this level of functionality in the past would have required a monumental medical device that took up a corner of a hospital room. It is now something that is worn on your wrist and ties into your consumer phone,” Reed says.

The technology could be a popular with doctors as well. “It is great for physicians who are constantly looking for new ways to keep track of their patients: what is going on with them, what is their condition, and not having to wait for their beeper to go off and then call a nurse,” Reed says. “On a single pane of glass of a mobile device, a physician can see in real time a 12-lead EKG or the heart rate read on an expectant mother directly. That is incredibly powerful.” The promise for physicians is better patient monitoring and for patients, the promise is engagement in their own healthcare, he adds.

While AirStrip’s technology has been used to monitor more than 3.5 million women in the hospital, the Apple Watch when used in tandem with AirStrip’s Sense4Baby monitor and its AirStrip One app can also enable physicians to track the health of expectant mothers and their unborn babies remotely.

The Apple Watch will be a “game changer for healthcare,” according to Powell, a trained obstetrician. 

AirStrip Technologies received a glut of attention from the exposure, temporarily overwhelming its website with traffic. “Our website was crashed within seconds. I have to confess, I didn’t know we were going to be right after Tim Cook,” AirStrip CEO Alan Portela explained to MedCity News. Portela also notes that the company received product inquiries from almost 20 “large providers” within hours of the Apple event.

In one segment of the presentation, AirStrip co-founder Cameron explained that the watch can be authenticated to individual doctors, enabling them to view sensitive HIPAA-compliant patient information. The ability for the watch to monitor real-time patient information on the smartwatch wasn’t possible until the launch of watchOS 2 [the latest operating system for the smartwatch]. But the new functionality also enables physicians to compare real-time patient waveform data with historical data into a single platform. “I can take action on what I see. I can send a HIPAA-compliant secure message to a member of the patient’s care team,” Cameron said in his presentation.  

It’s not the first time that Cameron Powell has spoken at an Apple Launch event. In 2009, he spoke about the functionality of its iPhone app for patient monitoring.

Apple’s stock dipped about $2 following the announcement on September 9 to $110.15 and then rebounded today to $112.57.

Airstrip already was on track to have a good year in 2015, with its sales 5% higher than projections. It may be mulling a 2016 IPO according to several media reports on September 10.

Learn more about cutting-edge medical devices at MEDevice San Diego, September 1–2 and MD&M Philadelphia, October 7–8.

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN and Qmed. Reach him at brian.buntz@ubm.com and on Twitter at @brian_buntz.

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