Hire of Prominent Obstetrician Suggests Apple Is Increasing Its Focus on Women’s Health

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Since the introduction of the Apple Watch, there has been a gradually increasing focus by Apple on features and technologies for improving the health and wellness of its customers, ranging from adding fitness and advanced heart tracking to the Apple Watch to turning the iPhone itself into a massive health hub for collecting and analyzing everything from heart rate to caffeine intake and providing a streamlined process for handling health records.

It’s also not a big secret that Apple has been building a strong internal team of doctors and other medical professionals to help with its health goals — something that Apple CEO Tim Cook wants to become one of Apple’s biggest legacies. While the dozens of doctors that Apple has hired in recent years come from a range of backgrounds and are working on a variety of projects, Apple’s most recent rumoured hire suggests that Apple is looking to improve its efforts specifically in the often-neglected area of women’s health.

According to a report by CNBC, Apple has hired Dr. Christine Curry, a prominent obstetrician-gynecologist known for her work with pregnant women who had contracted the Zika virus, specifically to look at how Apple can improve its efforts in the area of women’s health. According to sources familiar with the hire, Dr. Curry will be working on several projects across all of Apple’s health teams, but has a special interest in women’s health. Dr. Curry has not yet updated her LinkedIn profile to reflect a new position with Apple, which currently still lists her as working with Kaiser Permanente in Redwood City, California. Apple naturally declined to comment, while Dr. Curry did not respond to an inquiry by CNBC.

Women’s health has been long overlooked by health care companies and professionals, with many either ignoring it entirely, or simply assuming that it’s similar to men’s health. Many drug and health technology studies tend to be more heavily dominated by male participants, at least partly because the health industry still considers women to be a higher-risk group. For example, a 2015 article from KQED notes that even with heart disease, which is the number one cause of death for women in the U.S., men still make up 76 percent of the participants in all heart-related studies. The result is studies that are not only male-biased, but also build wrong assumptions about symptoms, which very often manifest differently in men than they do in women. The article cites the classic “left arm tingle” that’s associated with a heart attack as an example of a symptom that typically only presents itself in men and not women.

So it’s clear that there’s a need for an increased focus on women’s health issues that run the entire spectrum from not only women’s reproductive health, but heart disease, cancer, and mental health issues.

Even Apple, in spite of being famous for embracing diversity, originally ignored women’s health when it first debuted its HealthKit frameworks in 2015. While Apple claimed to offer “comprehensive” health tracking, it was criticized for omitting reproductive health. Apple was quick to add this in a future update in the form of a new Apple Reproductive Health section, which included features for tracking menstruation, ovulation, basal body temperature, and even sexual activity, however the features remain somewhat complicated to use, operating as a manual logbook rather than introducing any kind of of groundbreaking health technology.

According to Dr. Curry’s profile, she previously worked in a women’s prison facility in Massachusetts before heading up the clinical response effort to the Zika virus in the obstetrics populations at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, becoming South Florida’s top doctor for pregnant women with Zika.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that he wants health to be seen as “Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind,” and Apple’s ethos for encouraging diversity puts it in a strong position to lead the way in the area of women’s health by adding even tighter integration with third-party apps and hardware for tracking reproductive health, but also perhaps even more importantly by pushing for increased diversity in clinical research.

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