Apple COO Jeff Williams is increasingly speaking out about his personal passion for health care.
In Williams’ view, the future of medicine involves the patient at the center of the health experience armed with their data. And Apple can play a pivotal role in collecting this information through its massively popular consumer hardware like the iPhone and Apple Watch.
The company on Thursday announced its next step into the space with a first-of-its-kind study, the Apple Heart Study, to collect data on whether its smartwatch can detect a type of abnormality with the heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation.
Williams spoke with CNBC on the details of the study and the company’s interest in health. Here’s a transcript of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.
CNBC: Let’s jump right into the news. Can you give me an overview of how the Apple Heart study will work?
Jeff Williams: It’s just a simple study, and people do studies all the time, but we think this is a really, really special time. To date all of the work that we’ve done with the Apple Watch and the heart rate monitor has been focused on heart rate, and in the last Watch, our last course, we released a discordance feature which allows people to get notifications if the heart detects an eminently high heart rate when it thinks they’re at rest. With the (Heart Study) app, the watch will look at heart rhythm.
CNBC: How will it look at heart rhythm?
Williams: The EKG is actually is actually the electrical signal in your heart. And then your heart chambers beat, and it pumps blood, but you can tell a lot about heart rhythm by looking at the pulse wave, as the blood flows from the veins. And so that’s what the Photoplethysmogram (PPG) on the watch does. It looks at the pulse wave, and we can look at those beat-to-beat intervals, which allows us to look and detect irregular heart rhythms. And we can tune this to look for irregular heart rhythms that are consistent with atrial fibrillation. And that’s a big deal. I think you probably know a bit about it, but just to make sure we’re all up to speed: AFib (atrial fibrillation) is when your heart chambers beat asynchronously. And the problem with that is, the blood starts to pool, and you know, your blood is designed to clot. That’s what keeps you from bleeding to death when you get a cut. And the problem is, if it starts to clot in your heart and then that travels, it can cause problems like stroke. And so AFib is a leading cause of stroke. And stroke is a leading cause of death around the world.