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As a researcher at Harvard, Shruthi Mahalingaiah has been using Apple watches to track the ovulation cycles of 70,000 women for more than two years in an unprecedentedly large study. But as a doctor, she complains that she is stuck with “dinosaur technology”.
The iPhone maker touts the Apple Watch as the “ultimate device for a healthy life”, but it is not yet something Mahalingaiah can use with her patients because there has not been enough innovation to validate and incorporate the data.
“How we practise is sometimes decades behind scientific discovery,” she said. “We have got the personalised monitoring and we’ve got this whole medical-industrial complex — but how are they going to talk to each other?”
Mahalingaiah’s problem in finding ways to integrate Apple’s technology into daily care is partly why the Apple Watch, which launched in 2015 and is worn on the wrists of more than 100m people, has largely failed to fulfil its promise that “the future of health is on your wrist”.
Tim Cook, the company’s chief executive, has repeatedly said Apple’s greatest contribution to the world will be in “health and wellness” and the Apple Watch is the most visible part of that strategy, with its array of sensors that can measure blood oxygen levels, track movement, sleep and heart rate and take an electrocardiogram.
When Apple introduced the ECG feature in 2018, Dr Richard Milani, vice-chair of cardiology at Ochsner Health, predicted that it would “turn the tide” for how patients could be monitored and treated.
He said he remembered colleagues “running to me saying: ‘I can make a diagnosis off this and don’t even need to do another test because this is clinical grade!’’’
He felt optimistic about how the management of patients with chronic heart conditions would move beyond simply “two or three office visits in a year” to a more holistic approach, involving constant monitoring of symptoms.
Milani said his team is now able to monitor data points from thousands of patients and then use artificial intelligence to predict things such as who is likely to fall in the next year — the leading cause of hip fractures, brain injury and a host…