How Apple’s Thoughtful, Measured Approach Is Leading to a Healthcare Revolution

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Apple medical business could now stand alone as one of the largest in the sector in terms of coverage – if it could ever be separated from the company’s other products, which really can’t be by design. Last week’s annual WWDC global developer conference featured a host of new health-related features that spanned not only the health-focused Apple Watch line, but also the company’s iPhone, iPad, and other devices.

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Apple has shown a concerted effort to do more for health, from product design to participation in research and hiring. Jay Blahnik following his WWDC announcements to learn more about how important health and wellness is to the consumer tech giant’s ambitions.

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Williams began by reiterating what I’ve heard from Apple in the past on the subject: as a company, it never seriously set out to go into the healthcare business — at least not in the way it did. to develop a product such as an iPod or iPhone.

“It started when we were working on the watch,” he said. “And because the watch was such a personal device and you wear it, we thought it was a huge opportunity to maybe give people information about their health, and the more we started to pull the strings, we decided that this was not only an opportunity — there is a responsibility to do more in healthcare.”

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Williams said the impact of this felt responsibility has led to the many health features that Apple has introduced in the years since the watch was introduced, both on the watch and its platforms. Ultimately, Williams said, Apple has two “fundamental principles” that underpin its approach to introducing new health-related products and services: they must be “deeply based on science” and that “privacy is at the core of everything. , which makes Apple.

Informed Patients, Augmented Physicians

Desai said these principles are at the heart of the new features that Apple introduced at the conference. fresh FDA clearance for their atrial fibrillation history featurewhich will be available to Apple Watch users in the US with the watchOS 9 update this fall.

Apple Watch displays atrial fibrillation history

Image credits: Apple

“As Jeff mentioned, everything we do in healthcare is based on science, and the history of atrial fibrillation was confirmed in a clinical study in which participants wore both an Apple Watch and an FDA-approved reference device,” Desai told me. “In this study, the average difference in weekly measurements between the two devices is actually less than 1%.”

That’s a surprisingly small margin for non-specialized consumer technology that has the added benefit of being worn consistently for most of the day for a period that can go on for years – a claim that there’s no dedicated medical heart rate monitor. may match.

The importance of offering an atrial fibrillation history as something Apple Watch owners can share with their doctors, combined with all the other health data they can export as PDF if they choose to share a bigger picture, may not be immediately obvious, but this represents a depth and breadth of individual patient data that healthcare professionals have never had access to before. I asked how such groundbreaking work would impact healthcare in general, and whether Apple is working with healthcare professionals to understand those implications.

Desai (a doctor herself) noted that Apple spends “a lot of time talking to doctors” about research like the one she’s doing with University of Toronto Health Network (UHN) which we covered last year, as well as in other capacities.

“We don’t want to throw technology over the wall,” Desai explained. “We really want to get doctors to understand how this can be used because you think it will change their practice and it will also change how they interact with patients.”

“We are clear that the relationship between the patient and the doctor is still at the heart of the future of healthcare,” Williams said. “We just want to improve it. We do not believe that technology is in any way a substitute for [that]we just think it strengthens that relationship and in the future you will have a much more empowered patient and doctor who can work at the top of their license because they just have a better set of information to work with. Work.”

Williams acknowledged that such detailed features as a history of atrial fibrillation “will take some time” to “understand, use and accept,” but he mentioned one powerful way this can have an immediate impact: case finding when a patient is receiving ablative therapy. to eliminate chronic atrial fibrillation, but in which this treatment does not help the first time and atrial fibrillation remains (which would otherwise be asymptomatic).

Apple is also introducing medication reminder features in Health, including the ability to scan labels to add your own medications and receive reminders to hopefully improve adherence to their intended use. It will also provide users with information about potential negative interactions and offer another way for patients to have more informed conversations with their doctors with evidence to support them.

Super science of sleep

Apple’s approach to sleep tracking is also backed by science and promises to make even more contributions to the research community through a new Apple sleep study that the company is adding to its current heart study as an option for Apple Watch owners. when the new update comes out. Williams prefaced the feature, acknowledging that Apple was unlikely to be the first to track sleep phases (specialist health-tracking companies including Oura and Whoop have been offering this for years, for example), but again cites the need to feel confident about the science behind at the core of a feature before presenting it to the public.

“The trained machine learning models were validated against the clinical gold standard of polysomnography. [a type of multi-parameter sleep study]”Desai added. “And it was one of the largest and most diverse populations ever studied for wearables.”

Sleep stages in Apple Health on iPhone

Image credits: Apple

“Before sleep stages, we were really focused on helping people reach their sleep duration goals, because that’s really important – this sequence – but we wanted to go a little further and dig into the science and provide users with more information about their sleep. cycles,” Desai explained. “Thus, using signals from the Apple Watch’s accelerometer and heart rate sensor, users will now be able to see their sleep phases when they are in REM, core, and deep sleep.”

Apple’s use of the term “core” to define the type of sleep users spend most of their night in, which other sleep stage trackers more commonly refer to as “light,” is an interesting breakthrough in this area: the company found that “light” wasn’t really the best description, as it usually seemed like something to the average user to worry about, when in fact it is a perfectly normal part of the overall sleep cycle.

This is a good example of how Apple is constantly striving to balance the desire to increase the power and complexity of its health features while keeping them accessible to a very wide audience. It’s also a key component of their approach to the changes coming to their new Fitness features unveiled at WWDC.

Keep the fun of fitness by serving the fanatics

Blahnik has worked at Apple since before the Apple Watch was introduced, and he’s led how the company builds its fitness features from fairly basic activity tracking to a sophisticated suite of metrics management and plenty of pro-guided workouts. At WWDC, Apple made a number of big fitness announcements, including simple activity tracking right on the iPhone for watch-less users, and a slew of new metrics, features, and sports for enthusiasts and seasoned athletes. , as well as improvements to the Fitness+ subscription training service.

“Over the years, we have kept moving on and on because we know that different things motivate different people,” Blahnik said. “And we want to make sure we consistently provide variety for different personalities and for things that motivate people.”

The updates include three new metrics for runners to help avoid injury, including stride length, ground contact time and vertical oscillation. Blahnik noted that they are usually filmed with a range of specialized equipment or the direct observation of a professional, and that they are “really difficult to do from the wrist.” However, according to him, Apple has managed to create algorithms that reliably track them and then display them either directly during the workout or after it in the workout summary.

Given that Apple has spent a lot of time discussing these and other advanced features, such as custom workouts and auto-detect workouts for triathletes, I asked Blahnik how Apple determines when and where to tackle more complex challenges versus more general population features.

“Before the introduction of the Apple Watch, most people didn’t know, if they didn’t take their phone with them, even how far they ran, and […] the more this kind of information becomes available, you will find that users want more,” he said. “Or they might go on a trip where they’re going to run their first 5k and start reading more about their health. And so for now [the new metrics] really seem advanced, I’m always amazed at the fact that some of what we measured in the beginning also seemed to be advanced.”

Apple Watch heart rate zone monitoring

Image credits: Apple

Blahnik says that in the early days of the Apple Watch, even having access to the three main rings that Apple still uses to categorize and summarize its health — Standing, Moving, and Exercise — is itself was “advanced” compared to what was generally available. However, even if users are looking for more granular feedback, he notes that the challenge is bringing in sophistication while welcoming those who can find the full range of what Apple Health has become mind-boggling.

“I think it’s just a journey for us where we constantly want to offer more, trying to build features in a way that can be used and inspired by beginners and advanced athletes alike, and then never burden the person who just wants to come in and start experimenting,” he said, noting that the Workout app still looks and feels the same when you first open it, and reveals its complexity as you decide to dive into it.

Health everyday

Apple’s health care efforts have evolved from a subset of one of the many features of a single assistive device to something that spans the company’s entire product ecosystem while informing and welcoming collaboration among practitioners and researchers around the world. I asked Williams how this shift has caused Apple to rethink its overall approach to product development.

“I think everyone appreciates the fact that these devices are always with you,” he said. “We have a huge opportunity to help people with their health and, in general, everything from Screen Time, which is ultimately about health, because there is a huge mental health crisis, and we think that something like Screen Time promotes people’s well-being. “Throughout the company, people are thinking about how our products and services can help people in terms of health.”

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