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Brainstorm Health: Apple Watch and Hip Patients, AI and Breast Cancer, FDA E-Cigarette Crackdown

Happy Monday, readers! I hope you had a wonderful weekend. This is Sy.

The Apple Watch—the titan of the smartwatch industry with more than 18 million devices sold in 2017 alone—is about to connect thousands of hip and knee surgery patients directly with their surgeons.

Apple and medical device giant Zimmer Biomet announced Monday that they’re partnering on a clinical study that connects people awaiting hip and knee procedures with doctors via a digital health app for the Apple Watch and iPhone. The app, mymobility, is meant to feed patients’ health data (such as their heart rates, number of steps taken, time spent standing, and other relevant information) to their surgical care teams over the course of their treatment and recoveries.

Part of the rationale here is to help physicians keep tabs on patients who need two of the most common surgeries in America; on top of that, it gives patients a digitally-fueled avenue for connecting with their doctors.

“We are proud to enable knee and hip replacement patients to use their own data and share it with their doctors seamlessly, so that they can participate in their care and recovery in a way not previously possible through traditional in-person visits. This solution will connect consumers with their doctors continuously, before and after surgery,” said Apple chief operating officer Jeff Williams in a statement.

The trial will recruit 10,000 patients across four major medical academic centers (Emory and University of Pennsylvania) and dozens of hospital and surgical facilities. There are more than a million hip and knee replacements performed in the U.S. each year, so if the trial proves successful in speeding up recovery time, the market potential could be formidable.

Apple’s forays into the medical space have gotten increasingly aggressive, especially when it comes to leveraging its massive customer base for the use of their health data. The company’s built-in heart monitor for its latest Watch could shake up the digital health field—or, critics say, may wind up promoting unnecessary medical scares and interventions.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


And some more Apple Watch news. Speaking of the Apple Watch… On a smaller scale study, Apple is donating 1,000 Watches to assist the University of North Carolina with binge-eating research. The Binge Eating Genetics Initiative (BEGIN) study aims to understand the various biological factors that may contribute to over-eating. (Fortune)

Google AI tool shows promise in identifying a breast cancer. There may be few health-related fields with as much practical, tangible promise for artificial intelligence as medical imaging and diagnostics. To that end, Google AI has reportedly developed a deep learning tool called the LYmph Node Assistant, or LYNA, that appears to be better than human pathologists at identifying potential cases of a form of metastatic breast cancer. (Fortune)


Pharma gives an inch on drug price transparency. Industry lobbying group PhRMA will follow through on at least one Trump administration proposal meant to fight high drug prices. PhRMA member companies will begin directing patients to pricing information for drugs advertised directly to consumers. But, as some point out, it’s a pretty small step—list prices often don’t paint the whole picture on how much a drug will cost patients given America’s labyrinthian treatment supply chain. The voluntary action could also prove to be an upfront concession meant to soften the blow of potential future actions by the administration or Congress. (Reuters)


FDA doubles down on e-cigarette makers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just delivered another shot across the bow of vaping and e-cigarette manufacturers. The agency sent letters to 21 companies last Friday seeking more clarity on their marketing practices, especially as they apply to preventing teens’ use of the increasingly popular products. Affected firms include tobacco giants like Reynolds American and Imperial Brands Plc. (Reuters)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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