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Stanford launches iPhone app to study heart health

Dr. Alan Yeung,  MD., Chief (Clinical) Division of Cardiovascular Medicine Interventional Cardiology,and Dr Michael McConnell, MD.,  with a new health app for iPhone on Thursday, February 26, 2015. ( Norbert von der Groeben/ Stanford School of Medicine )

A new, first-of-its-kind iPhone app, designed by Stanford Medicine heart experts as a fun way for users to learn about their own heart health while at the same helping to advance the field of cardiovascular medicine, was launched today.

The app, called MyHeart Counts, takes advantage of the iPhone’s built-in motion sensors to collect data on physical activity and other cardiac risk factors for a research study. It’s now available for free in the App Store. As I describe in our press release:

The free app uses the new ResearchKit framework announced today by Apple to present users with a simple way to participate in the study, complete tasks and answer surveys from their iPhone. The app will deliver a comprehensive assessment of each user’s heart health and provide information on how to improve it. It will also be used to study various methods — designed to be both easy and fun — for using smartphones and other wearable devices to enhance heart-healthy habits.

...

“MyHeart Counts aims to be the largest study of measured physical activity and cardiovascular health to date,” [said Stanford cardiologist Michael McConnell, MD, lead investigator for the study]. “We want people to join in this research effort to give fundamental new insights into how activity helps your heart, across all ages, genders, cultures and countries.”

Users start by providing some basic health information – age, weight, blood pressure – all kept confidential, and are then asked to record a week of activity. The app in return provides the user with a number representing their “heart age.” For example, if you're 40 years old, and your heart age is reported as 20 years, that’s good news. If those numbers are reversed, there might be something to worry about.

The ultimate goal of the study, McConnell and his collaborator Alan Yeung, MD, told me, is to provide scientific evidence as to the effectiveness of the myriad methods of behavioral motivation techniques marketed through wearable devices to improve health. The idea is to use hard data to find out what really works:

Recently, there has been an explosion in the marketing of wearable devices to record and report information about behaviors, such as physical activity or sleep patterns, to improve health, but there is limited scientific evidence available to show whether they are effective, McConnell said.

As a physician who regularly sees patients in the clinic, McConnell knows first hand how hard it can be to change a patient’s behavior. Physical activity has been shown to be far more effective in improving health than medication, but getting patients to be more active isn’t easy.

"Preventive medicine hasn’t worked by having doctors make to-do lists for their patient, then seeing them six months later and hoping they did everything on the list,” McConnell told me. “The future needs a much more ongoing engagement with people’s health. We need to understand how to reach out to modify behavior long before we end up having to see someone for a heart attack or stroke.”

Previously: Lack of exercise shown to have largest impact on heart disease risk for women over the age of 30
Photo, of Alan Yeung (left) and Michael McConnell, by Norbert von der Groeben

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