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Dr. Sumbul Desai, Apple’s VP of Health, took part in a CBS Sunday Morning segment on health trackers, with the piece showing not only the utility of hardware like the Apple Watch in health, but also the potential of wearable devices to do more.
The opening segment of CBS Sunday Morning on Sunday had correspondent David Pogue talking to a trio of experts about wearable devices. Dr. Desai was prominently featured, using the time to show off many features of the Apple Watch in relation to health monitoring and tracking.
The features covered include heart rate tracking, irregular heart rate notifications, blood oxygen monitoring, walking steadiness, noise notifications, and hand washing. Demonstrations included showing Pogue’s heart rate, sound level warnings, and an electrocardiogram.
On the subject of detecting symptoms for future medical problems, Desai gives examples of how the Apple Watch could help. “If you’re sleeping more or sleeping less than you used to, if your heart rate is at a different baseline heart rate than it was, those are early signs of things that may be going on,” the doctor offers.
“If we notice changes in your gait we can actually give you an early notification where you can do something about it,” Desai continued. She then pointed out that atrial fibrillation detection is useful as the user’s wearing the Apple Watch all the time, instead of it potentially appearing during a visit to a physician.
When asked if heart rate notifications saved lives, Desai said it did so “almost every day.” “Their physicians are actually telling them I’m so glad you showed up when you did because this really could’ve ended much differently.”
The report also talked to Stanford School of Medicine professor Michael Snyder, who is conducting several studies about the medical utility of wearable devices. Snyder proposes smart watches could potentially detect “infections disease, anemia, even type 2 diabetes.”
University of Cambridge professor Gina Neff, who co-authored a book on self-tracking, initially offers that wearable devices are beneficial, since users are more likely to be connected to others, and are more likely to be happier.
Neff does offer concerns about who can access medical data gathered by wearable devices, pointing to how such hardware is used in warehouses to see if workers are moving fast enough in their work. Apps intended to train users to become a safer driver can be “used to raise your insurance premiums,” Neff insists, adding that these “are scenarios that are used in companies today.”
When pressed by Pogue, Desai says “I want to be completely clear that Apple does not have access to any health information for a user. It is on-device encrypted and in the user’s control.” Asked if there was an engineer who could look up a person’s blood oxygen level, Desai states “Absolutely not.”
The piece is the latest to feature Dr. Desai, who has repeatedly discussed Apple’s work in the health field at length. She is set to talk at the 2022 Life Itself conference, with the expectation she will talk about Apple’s various health initiatives.