Apple patent suggests move toward blood pressure monitoring

Jessica Kim Cohen - Print  | 

A patent granted to Apple in late 2017 suggests the company may expand its smartwatch capabilities to include blood pressure monitoring, according to CNBC.

In September, Apple revealed that its newest Apple Watch will include an electrocardiogram sensor cleared by the FDA. The ECG sensor will alert users when it detects patterns that appear to be atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heart rhythm.

However, Graeme Moffat, PhD, chief scientist at biomedical and "brain-sensing" company Interaxon, told CNBC he thinks Apple's goal is to ultimately transform the Apple Watch into a wearable blood pressure monitor.

"I think Apple is going after the biggest measurement in healthcare and they're going to disrupt it," he told the publication. Dr. Moffat pointed to a patent the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Apple in October 2017 for a system that uses sensors to estimate blood pressure as evidence for his theory.

One method Apple could use to approximate blood pressure is by analyzing "pulse transit time," or the relative delay for a pressure wave to travel between two sites in an artery. Pulse transit time can be measured with data from a pulse sensor on a user's wrist and an ECG sensor, both of which are included in the Apple Watch Series 4.

Dr. Moffat suggested Apple might ask its smartwatch users with high blood pressure to share data from third-party blood pressure cuffs to inform development of the tool.

Apple Watch users have already demonstrated interest in supporting the company's research. In August, Apple closed enrollment for its joint heart rhythm study with Stanford University School of Medicine in California and telehealth vendor American Well.

"Apple could create a very powerful system for tracking cardiac health," Dr. Moffat told CNBC. "It could provide a new way for users to manage high blood pressure, which has some very big implications."

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