Apple is just one of several tech giants who have entered the healthcare technology space, leveraging different capabilities from the traditional medtech firms to enable prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a variety of diseases. Their potential to disrupt the industry has often been discussed. To some, these organizations represent serious new competitors to established medtech firms. Others consider them potential partners who bring a much needed skill set to those already quite familiar with operating in the regulatory environment. Regardless of the view one has, these enterprises bring specialized capabilities with them that complement the needs to address the ongoing shift in healthcare (e.g., digital health, patient-focused solutions, artificial intelligence, big data and analytics, etc.).
Unfortunately, it seems all may not be as rosy as one would think concerning future potential for Apple’s health unit. According to a report by Christina Farr at CNBC, the unit has seen some high-profile departures in the past few months. An eight-year veteran of the firm, Christine Eun, who has a background in marketing, left in August. Brian Ellis returned to Apple Music after leaving a team that oversaw an Apple subsidiary (AC Wellness) that operated health clinics for the firm’s employees. Also leaving was Matt Krey, whose departure was noted on LinkedIn as being due to time needed to focus on family. Further, Warris Bokhari and Andrew Trister were both mentioned as other notable employees who exited Apple Health, the former to join Anthem while the latter enjoyed a new role with the Gates Foundation.
The information regarding these departures came from discussions Farr had with eight unnamed employees, who explained health is still a “strategic priority for Apple.” Those same people, however, noted an increase in tensions within the team during recent months, a trend they say began several years ago. According to Farr’s report, “some employees have become disillusioned with the group’s culture, where some have thrived while others feel sidelined and unable to move their ideas forward. Four of the eight noted some employees hoped to tackle bigger challenges with the health care system, such as medical devices, telemedicine, and health payments. Instead the focus has been on features geared to a broad population of healthy users.”
The differing of opinions regarding the direction the company should take seems to have been a primary cause for divisions within the segment. According to the CNBC article, one faction was interested in the telehealth space and simplifying insurance billing. Another was interested in expanding the attention given to Beddit, a sleep sensor technology Apple acquired in 2017. There are still others who believe the AC Wellness clinics should grow to include software development for clinicians. Further, there are apparently disagreements over the level of transparency regarding healthcare innovations—something Apple is likely not too comfortable with given its highly guarded product launches for the consumer space in the past.
Two of Farr’s sources also mentioned the results of an employee survey, which revealed discontent within the company’s Health sector. The unit reports to Apple’s COO, Jeff Williams, who apparently spoke to several employees to determine the cause of the dissatisfaction within the segment. Unfortunately, Williams’ focus can’t be solely devoted to the unit as his responsibilities require his attention to other areas. Farr also noted the lack of a senior vice president dedicated to the health division, something the company may want to remedy if it wants to stay committed to a healthcare mission.
CNBC’s report aside, Apple Health is having a positive impact on the industry. There are a number of projects and partnerships the company is involved in, some noted in the Top Company reports featured in the last issue. Earlier this year, J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals entered into a research study with Apple to determine if an app could help diagnose and improve the health outcomes of those living with atrial fibrillation. Results of a Stanford University study (sponsored by Apple) found wearable technology can safely identify heart rate irregularities. A simple Google search reveals a host of other initiatives that bring Apple and traditional healthcare entities together.
Hopefully, the technology leader can find the right recipe and direction in its quest to enhance care before it loses too many of its valuable human resources.
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Sean Fenske, Editor-in-Chief