Apple has made its interest in the health industry clear over the last several years with features like HealthKit, the Apple Watch, and more.
Today, a new report from CNBC details discord within the Health team at Apple, including an increase in departures.
CNBC article excerpts’
Apple’s health team has seen a slew of departures in the past year after a series of leadership changes and internal disagreements about direction.
It’s not clear whether the attrition rate within the health team is higher than in other groups within Apple. But the departures and the internal tension over the group’s vision show how tech companies could stumble in the notoriously complex $3.5 trillion health-care sector.
This year, an employee morale survey in the health team showed signs of discontent…
Health does remain a strategic priority for Apple. … At present, there’s no single senior vice president dedicated to health.
The health group’s leadership includes
•Kevin Lynch, who oversees software projects, including the group of doctors and engineers working on health records
•Eugene Kim, who leads watch hardware
•Sumbul Desai, who oversees the clinical team that runs AC Wellness health clinics, the electrocardiogram app and the Apple Heart Study, and health strategy
There’s also a separate business development group under former health consultant Myoung Cha that works with health insurance customers as well as pharmaceutical companies.
One of the key issues is long-term vision inside Apple’s health team. …some employees feel the company could be taking on more ambitious projects and doing more in health. Instead, its products and services are mostly confined to wellness and prevention.
Wellness involves helping those who are generally healthy with areas including exercise, meditation and sleep, while medical applications target patients with specific diseases. Wellness is less risky and less regulated than diagnosing and treating disease, but it’s not where most of the cost is in the health-care system. Almost 90% of U.S. health-care expenditures are for people with chronic diseases.
One faction wanted to introduce a telemedicine service and move into health payments to simplify insurance billing, but it was not successful in driving these initiatives ahead.
Others wanted to do more with Beddit, a sleep sensor that a team at Apple spent months vetting before it was acquired in mid-2017.
There are also disagreements over the AC Wellness health clinics and whether they should expand into medical software and eventually produce products for clinicians or remain focused on Apple employees. A small product team led by Apple veteran Jason Fass left AC Wellness in 2017
There was also tension about how much the health team should borrow from the Apple playbook.
When the company announced its electrocardiogram for the Apple Watch in the fall of 2018, some doctors and others in the medical industry outside of Apple reacted negatively to the news. This frustrated some people internally who had argued for a small and focused product launch, which involved the medical community getting to weigh in and ask questions to reduce any potential pushback. The company compromised by secretly convening groups of medical experts, including cardiologists, at its headquarters every six months or so, and by introducing content developed with the support of doctors at Apple specifically for doctors.
Two of the people said there were also disagreements about how transparent the company should be about its work to the medical industry. Apple has previously remained highly secretive about its projects. Yet that level of secrecy is more challenging to maintain in health care because the industry typically runs on published research, clinical studies and keeping an open dialogue with stakeholders in the industry.
Tension has been increasing within the team in recent months, although that undercurrent started several years ago.
Other high-level departures from the group over the past few years are
•Robin Goldstein, who was at Apple for more than two decades and most recently worked on the regulatory side of health before leaving in late 2017
•Anil Sethi, a former Apple Health director who left to form a health-tech start-up in late 2017
•Stephen Friend, a top Apple researcher who departed at the end of 2017
•Charles Schlaff, who worked on Apple Watch before moving over to special projects and left in November 2018
•Craig Mermel, who was in engineering at Apple Health and left to join Google Brain in February
•and Yoky Matsouka, who was brought in to lead health but left after less than a year in 2016 and is now a vice president at Google