Apple's Latest Health Move is an App That Collects Data for 3 New Studies

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Got an iPhone and a really strong desire to participate in a health study? Well then, head on over to the App Store and download Apple’s new Research App.

It’s the company’s latest foray into the health space. And while many medical professionals are excited about the opportunity to have their hands on new data, other people are worried about ... exactly that.

People in the U.S. can download the app to take place in three different studies. Once they do, their information will be collected and passed on, allowing the study leaders to analyze the data and giving Apple a better sense of the kinds of future health-related applications people can most benefit from.

What Kind of Studies are we Talking Here?

The first study has to do with women’s health, and could last a decade or more. Harvard’s School of Public Health and the NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences will collect data about menstruation, exercise levels and more to figure out ways they can improve reproductive health.

Next up is a study on the heart and movement. Doctors at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association are hoping that with massive amounts of data from a variety of Apple users, they can help identify the little indicators of heart trouble, allowing them to better spot them in patients and prevent conditions like heart disease and atrial fibrillation, which can lead to stroke.

Finally, the University of Michigan will start a two-year research project aiming to learn more about how exposure to the different types of noise that comes from people’s phones can affect people’s hearing. They’ll also see whether people actually change their behavior if the Health app tells them that what they’re listening to is too loud.

From Computers to Health Domination

This isn’t Apple’s first move in the health space. With recent products like the Apple Watch, Apple Health app, a software program called ResearchKit for medical professionals and other research partnerships in the past, the company has showed it wants to move far beyond its days when it was just a lowly computer maker.

The move has a lot of winners – researchers get the opportunity to learn from unprecedented amounts of consistent health data, Apple gets a new revenue stream (both from devices and data) and anyone could benefit from the medical advancements these studies could produce.

So who are the losers? Well, it depends on what you consider losing. As with any innovative tech announcement centered around data, some people are worried about privacy, though this is an opt-in app. Apple has also promised it's not going to sell the info, that studies will have to let users know how their data can be used in the studies and that app users can stop at any time.

Will it stay that way forever, or is this a way for Apple to get in the good graces of its users and health partners before launching new apps, devices or policies without the goal of public health – but of more money for the trillion-dollar company? Or is this really a public good that can finally help researchers spot lifestyle habits and warning signs that lead to a variety of health conditions and diseases? As with everything in the convergence of tech and lifestyle, it’s probably a little of both – hopefully with a healthy dose of opting out.

About the Author

Rachelle Dragani is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn with extensive experience covering the latest innovation and development in the world of science. Her pieces on topics including DNA sequencing, tissue engineering and stem cell advances have been featured in publications including BioTechniques: the International Journal of Life Science Methods, Popular Mechanics, Futurism and Gizmodo.