Apple, J&J to put the Apple Watch’s ECG through large-scale clinical testing

Apple and Johnson & Johnson are teaming up on a multiyear research study to see if the latest Apple Watch can help catch and diagnose elderly people with atrial fibrillation earlier and faster than before.

The watch, with its ECG function and irregular heartbeat notifications that went live last month, will be paired with a patient engagement app developed by J&J, to gauge its potential for improving cardiovascular outcomes and preventing strokes.

The two companies plan to launch the large-scale project in the U.S. later this year, with a controlled, randomized study enrolling participants age 65 and older. The study will also assess the impacts of a medication adherence program, through J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals arm.

"We're excited about the potential of common, wearable technology to aid in the earlier detection and prevention of a frequent cause of stroke," said J&J’s chief scientific officer, Paul Stoffels.

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"Too many people living with AFib are unaware of their risk, and earlier detection, diagnosis and treatment of AFib could significantly improve outcomes,” Stoffels said. “Based on the insights generated through this research program, we may be able to develop new ways to detect other health conditions earlier in the future that also exhibit measurable physiological symptoms.”

According to J&J, 33 million people worldwide have atrial fibrillation, which is responsible for about 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations annually.

"Utilizing wristwatch-based optical heart sensor and ECG monitoring is a logical evolution of this research and may also lead to increased AFib diagnosis and improved clinical outcomes for patients," said Paul Burton, Janssen’s vice president of medical affairs.

RELATED: The Apple Watch’s ECG features are live

Earlier this week, a report from CNBC described how Apple has had talks with at least three private Medicare plans, including some of the market’s largest insurance companies, about subsidizing the cost of the Apple Watch for people over age 65.

With the latest version’s ECG and fall monitoring hardware, the device appears to be designed as useful health tracker for seniors, and not just for tech-focused adopters.

In addition, Apple CEO Tim Cook told CNBC’s Jim Cramer this week that the company plans to announce new additions to its services in 2019.

"I believe, if you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, ‘What was Apple's greatest contribution to mankind?’ it will be about health," Cook said on Mad Money, but did not offer further details. “We are taking what has been with the institution and empowering the individual to manage their health. And we’re just at the front end of this.”