Updated: June 25, 2019 6:32:10 pm
When the Apple Watch Series 4 was announced last year with advanced heart monitoring, ECG and fall detection, it was designed as a bridge between the doctor and patient. “We design products to be used in partnership with your physician,” explains Dr. Sumbul Desai, Apple’s VP of Health.
Dr. Desai, who was vice-chair of strategy and innovation for the department of medicine at Stanford Medical before joining Apple in 2017, says she fundamentally believes there’s something about the physician-patient relationship that’s really “sacred and special”.
“So if we can find ways to augment that relationship, that’s what we’re trying to do, we think there’s an ability to allow you to engage with your physician in a more meaningful way,” says Desai who also has a degree in computer science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and has worked at IBM, ABC and Disney. She continues to serve as a clinical associate professor of medicine at Stanford Medical in addition to her responsibilities at Apple.
“If you think about your physician visits, part of the time is spent gathering data and part of the time is spent counselling and educating you. Most physicians want to spend more time counselling and educating,” Dr. Desai explains the importance of a device like the Apple Watch which is now capable of collecting most important data about a person.
Apple can now help capture the data and then give that to your physician in “a meaningful way,” she tells indianexpress.com, adding that this will have “richer conversations with the doctor and allow for more time for counseling and education that’s personalised for you.”
When Apple launched a host of new health features with the Series 4, industry insiders observed that Apple was doubling down on health and fitness. “When we think about health, we think about it from a broad perspective of how do we empower individuals to live a healthy life,” Dr. Desai adds. She says the key focus of Apple is to democratise health information and let it be used to empower consumers to live a healthier life.
“The Apple Watch is a device that allows you to stay connected. The same device can help you be more active. Now we have introduced activity trends (in watchOS 6) are really focusing on activity and fitness. The same device also has health features, like the noise app, cycle tracking and heart features. So the ability to pull all those together in a small, beautiful, practical device is what excites us.”
Dr. Desai says the Apple Watch will enable people to live a healthier life not just by wearing it for your health, but by wearing it everyday. “We can empower you to engage in your health in a more effective way. We think it’ll be a really powerful way to keep you healthy,” she adds.
Dr. Desai says Apple is “focusing on research and making sure that we are scientifically based”. So they are using evidence-based methods to develop features and study how information is surfaced to individuals.
“We have done work like the Apple Heart Study and for our fall feature also we did quite a bit of research.” The Apple Heart Study conducted in conjunction with Stanford Medicine aimed to understand whether the Apple Watch and its heart-rate sensor could pick up on irregular rhythm in user’s hearts. In that study, which covered more than 400,000 patients, only 0.5 per cent (or 2,000 people) got notifications indicating they had an irregular heart rate.
According to Dr. Desai, the Apple Heart Study was an example of a new data type. “The accuracy of the technology that we’re introducing, as well as understanding how that relates to clinical medicine is what that study was about,” she explains, adding that the study showed how to generate scientific evidence around these new data types that can actually detect conditions. “So we think that’s game changing, and we think that will eventually change and affect people’s lives.”
Dr. Desai also reiterated Apple’s stance on user data, especially in the context of sensitive health data. “We protect your information in a way that only Apple does, where we focus on data being on device, the individual controlling that data, deciding who they share it with, when they share it and how they share it,” she underlines.
Health has been a key focus area for Apple in the past few years. Apple CEO Tim Cook himself has said often that the company’s biggest contribution could be in the area of health. But Dr. Desai also sees it as a responsibility. ”I think the opportunity is if we can have the impact to actually keep people healthy. And that’s our responsibility. And that’s the way we think about it. It is something that is very organic.”
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