Many had dismissed Apple's announcement of tie-ups with health research organisations at this year's launch event, but what the company did is essential.
While relying on a watch (tracker) or an app to count steps is one thing, arriving at diagnoses from readings is a shot in the dark. The news of two tracking apps misdiagnosing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) confirms this. According to The New York Times, both companies have been using faulty screening methods and thin science to conclude that a user has PCOS. While Clue did not release this data, Flo recommended 38% of the users, who had completed their health assessment, to consult a doctor. With studies estimating the prevalence of PCOS somewhere between 4.6 and 8%, Flo was way off the target.
Many had dismissed Apple’s announcement of tie-ups with health research organisations at this year’s launch event, but what the company did is essential. Apple has launched Apple Research, where volunteers can share their health data with research organisations. For instance, in the case of heart diseases, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association collate data on heart rate and mobility. For women’s health, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) study menstrual cycles to inform screening and risk assessment of conditions like PCOS, infertility, osteoporosis, pregnancy and the menopausal transition. For hearing, Apple has tied up with the University of Michigan and WHO to collect data over time to understand how everyday sound exposure can impact hearing. Although this is not to trash Flo and Clue’s usefulness, such apps need to be more careful with consumer-focused studies and results. With health devices and tracking apps making it easier to collect records and detect patterns, companies need to operate with the same sense of responsibility that the medical device industry does.