Info-tech

Does the Apple Watch increase your anxiety?

Mala Bhargava June 25 | Updated on June 25, 2019 Published on June 25, 2019

Dr Sumbul Desai, VP of Health, Apple

Dr Sumbul Desai, VP of Health at Apple, talks to BusinessLine about how health literacy counters worry using the world’s favourite wearable

Dramatic stories of how the Apple Watch saved someone’s life because it gave out a timely alert about the presence of a heart problem, specifically atrial fibrillation or A-Fib, crops up in the news with increasingly frequency. As more people around the world use the Apple Watch, more just-in-time rescue reports make their way into the headlines.

The ECG capability hasn’t been enabled in India yet, but it is ready on the newest Apple Watch, the Series 4, and awaits regulatory approval.

Also read: Slip, trip, fall: The Apple Watch calls for help

But even without the ECG, which will mostly benefit the vulnerable, the wearable can track manyhealth parameters with its WatchOS 6, the next version of its operating system. In fact, few people exploit the full potential of the Apple Watch (including previous versions) to comprehensively track different aspects of health and fitness.

Apple is redesigning its Health app to increase its functionality, taking in data the users log from hundreds of third party apps and giving them the big picture about their fitness. Users can also ‘favourite’ certain aspects of their fitness to track those.

However, with so much to track, there is concern that the users will end up increasing their anxiety level. Psychiatrists report data-tracking as one of the more recent worries for their patients, as health trackers and smartwatches become common.

Helping live a healthier life

“There are a few key things that we focus on,” said Dr Sumbul Desai, VP of Health at Apple and a physician. “The first is how do we democratise information about your health to empower you to understand how to really live a healthier life. As a physician, I feel that the more an individual understands what is going on with them, the more likely they are to take steps to engage and be healthier.At Apple, the work we do with the watch and the Health app is providing information in a way that a person can understand, and see how to take that and incorporate that in their everyday life.”

Apple Watch is trying to ensure that the data is encrypted and private, with only the individual being able to control what is shared down to a granular level. To illustrate, Dr Desai refers to the menstrual cycle tracking, which is coming soon to the Apple Watch.

“For example, in Cycle Tracking — which we’ve enabled and will be available here in the fall — there’s a component that allows the individual to interact in a very useful, simple and discreet way, but when you compile all of the data, it is put together in a way that you can engage with your physician and have a conversation in which the physician better understands what is happening with you. And then you can ask questions in a way that you may not have, if you hadn’t had such information at your fingertips,” she said.

Information and education

Apple has a number of physicians on their staff and they work closely with the medical community. “The more you educate people about conditions and have them understand what to look for, that is what will help with diminishing anxiety,” said Dr Desai. “The challenge is that if you provide the information and don’t provide the education around it, and what it means that’s when you get anxiety, because anxiety comes from not knowing, a lot of the time.”

Work on the health aspects of the Apple Watch also involve full fledged explanations on usage.

Dr Desai elaborated on the ‘Cycle Tracking’ feature of the Apple Watch. According to her, it provides information about mensuration. “You’re not just tracking dates, but understanding what to worry about and what not to,” she said.

“For example, in our high heart rate and low heart rate features, which are available in India, we explain when the information is important, when you should not do anything with it and what the information does not do, so that we eliminate the anxiety upfront and no one is left wondering.”

As a physician, Dr Desai finds that a lot of time is spent educating patients and counselling them. “Patients spend time telling me what happened to them and events on a particular day and say look at my blood pressure readings. But now, having the information in the Health app, we eliminate much of that need and saved time because we have a better picture of what’s going on with you everyday, so we can actually spend more time in the clinic counselling and educating you instead of focusing on data gathering,” she said.

Published on June 25, 2019
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