Apple Is Scaling Back HealthHabit Project, May Lead to Layoffs – Business Insider

  • Apple is scaling back a key health initiative, and some employees could lose their jobs.
  • The app, called HealthHabit, is the most visible project to emerge from Apple’s health clinics. 
  • Apple took over the clinics from a partner in 2018 to test new ideas in primary care and wearables.

Apple is scaling back a key project in its health division, four people familiar with the matter told Insider.

It’s an app called HealthHabit that Apple employees can use to log fitness goals, manage hypertension , and talk to clinicians and coaches at AC Wellness, the doctors’ group that Apple works with.

More than 50 employees were spending a significant amount of time working on the app. Some of them will be laid off with severance if they’re unable to find other roles inside Apple in the next few weeks, two of the people said. The people requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. Their identities are known to Insider.

Apple declined to comment on the changes to HealthHabit or the potential for layoffs.

A setback for Apple’s healthcare ambitions

The decision is a setback for Apple’s healthcare ambitions because HealthHabit is the biggest project to emerge from Apple’s health clinics, which the company took over from the startup Crossover Health in 2018. At the time, the aim was to use the clinics to experiment with new healthcare services. The app was meant to turn some of the research efforts associated with the clinics into a product.

HealthHabit is part of Apple Health, an organization of several hundred engineers, program managers, data scientists, designers, and physicians who oversee Apple’s clinics, consumer features such as heart-rate and fitness tools, and secretive digital-health bets.

Apple Watch Workout Green

An Apple Watch.
Lisa Eadicicco/Business Insider

HealthHabit could continue with fewer staffers and features or be shut down, one person said. Some of its functions will transition to AC Wellness to run the project more efficiently since AC Wellness clinicians and coaches are already providing employee care, another person said.

The decision follows a critical report by The Wall Street Journal and internal concerns about the way Apple Health has represented clinical data related to its work in hypertension, or high blood pressure, Insider has found.

Concerns over HealthHabit

Apple has been piloting coaching programs for workers with hypertension in tandem with AC Wellness for the past few years, and employees viewed HealthHabit as a logical next step to bring that work to life, three people said. If HealthHabit had success internally, it could have been a product for customers one day, the people said.

That would be similar to how Amazon built a primary-care service internally before launching it for other businesses.

Apple also wanted the app to broaden access to care for employees who couldn’t visit the clinics in person, another person said.

Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, set off concerns about the hypertension work at Apple in March, when he discussed some of the health division’s most exciting projects during an all-hands meeting, according to The Journal’s and Insider’s reporting.

Jeff Williams, Chief Operating Officer of Apple, speaks about the new Apple Watch Series 4 at an Apple Inc product launch event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, U.S., September 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, speaks about the Apple Watch Series 4 at a launch event in Cupertino, California, in 2018.
Reuters/Stephen Lam

Williams oversees a team that runs the health division that includes the vice presidents Dr. Sumbul Desai, the head of care delivery and regulatory; Myra Haggerty, who leads algorithms; and Eugene Kim, the head of watch hardware.

Evan Doll, a director of health software engineering, has replaced Kevin Lynch, a VP, on the team as Lynch takes on new responsibilities involving Apple’s car project, Insider previously reported.

During the meeting, Williams described an Apple-run care pilot with a cohort of 500 patients, more than half of whom had stage-two hypertension, according to three people present and The Journal’s reporting. They were given blood-pressure cuffs, watches, coaching, and medication.

By the end of the pilot, more than 91% of the patients had lowered their blood pressure through lifestyle therapy like eating better and monitoring instead of the usual care, Williams said, according to the people who were present. Williams said that work was underway to digitize the success and expand the program, and the people present understood Williams to be referring to HealthHabit.

Some employees involved with the research were surprised to see Williams tout that figure, because they didn’t think the research was that effective, four current and former Apple employees said. As The Journal noted, that would make Apple’s hypertension program vastly more successful than leading chronic-care companies.

HealthHabit itself has struggled with low engagement since launching for employees last year. As of May, half the people who had downloaded it hadn’t actually enrolled in the program, The Journal reported.

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