Innovation

How Apple plans to make patient data rule the future of medicine

Apple COO Jeff Williams shared the company's healthcare vision for how devices can empower patients to take control of their care.

The future of healthcare will put patients at the center, armed with data collected through personal devices, according to Apple COO Jeff Williams.

In a conversation with CNBC on Thursday, Williams laid out Apple's healthcare vision, in which devices can help both patients and physicians make better plans for care.

That day, Apple announced the launch of the Apple Heart Study, in which consumers can use Apple Watch's heart rate sensor to collect data on irregular heart rhythms, and the device will notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation. The Apple Heart Study app is available in the US App Store to customers age 22 and up who have an Apple Watch Series 1 or later.

Stanford Medicine will help perform the research. If an irregular heart rhythm is identified, participants will receive a notification on their Apple Watch and iPhone, a free telemedicine consultation with a study doctor, and an electrocardiogram (ECG) patch for additional monitoring.

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"Our focus is empowering consumers to play a more active role in their health," Williams told CNBC. "Most of us live in an era where you go see your doctor when you're sick, you do what you're told, and that's really it for your view of the medical world. You play a very passive role. You're a passenger in the car. And it's very clear to us that the future is very different. The future is people are going to be more empowered with information about their health and they're going to play a more active role. They'll sometimes drive the car."

This does not reduce the role of the physician, Williams said—rather, it arms medical professionals with more information, and more engaged patients.

Apple does not have any hardware announcements that could impact health beyond the Apple Watch, Williams said, in part because the human body is challenging to measure. However, he hinted that the company may continue to work in the medical record space, as Apple already allows users to import their health records to their devices.

"We believe that every person in the world ought to have their health information," Williams said. "We think the right place for the health information to exist is with the person on their device. And we believe from a privacy standpoint, that where that information gets shared should be — should be completely up to the individual. There's nothing more personal than your health information. And so we view that as the future."

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Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. On Thursday, Apple announced the Apple Heart Study, in which consumers can use Apple Watch's heart rate sensor to collect data on irregular heart rhythms, and the device will notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation.

2. Apple COO Jeff Williams said this is a step toward the future of healthcare, where patients will have more access to their own data and be more empowered in their care.

3. Apple's vision for the healthcare future includes giving people access to their medical records on their devices.

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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