Yesterday was a significant day for Apple and its legions of loyal fans, but was it also the “beginning of a health revolution” as Apple alludes to? On September 9th, Apple announced its new iteration of the iPhone, the iPhone 6 running a new iOS 8 operating system, and also debuted its first wearable technology, the Apple Watch. The long awaited launch of these new devices also showcased software that Apple debuted earlier this year, Apple’s Health app and HealthKit platform which are integrated into the new operating system.
The Health app is a health and fitness data dashboard. It can integrate information from various sources, including fitness devices, and display them in a user friendly interface. HealthKit is a platform that developers can use to share data between Apple’s Health and other health and fitness apps. In addition to the apps that will run on the iPhone 6, the new Apple Watch also has built in sensors that will enable it to measure and record biometric data from its wearers.
All of that sounds nice, but do the iPhone 6, iOS 8, Apple Watch, Apple’s Health app and HealthKit represent a revolution in healthcare? Probably not. There are thousands of health and fitness apps available on the iTunes store and elsewhere that have similar functionality to the Health app. Software that interfaces between various apps, like HealthKit, has also been around for some time and there are many devices on the market that can measure fitness data. The main issues with all of the apps and devices mentioned above, is the relatively slow rate of adoption by mainstream consumers and a lack of practical integration. That is why healthcare stakeholders should pay close attention to the newly announced Apple platforms.
Apple does not need to revolutionize healthcare technology to have a significant impact. In fact, Apple did not make the first mp3 player or the first smartphone but, nevertheless, has a proven track record of bringing technology to the masses. That potential is what could lead to Apple’s new hardware and software products having a real impact on healthcare. This potential is enhanced by some very prominent healthcare players that have already partnered with Apple in the health information technology space. The Mayo Clinic and Apple have both been public about their partnership and the integration these two parties can offer between health care providers and patients should be carefully watched. Likewise, Apple is partnering with electronic medical record giant Epic although details on the partnership have not been forthcoming. The amount of interest in Apple’s new products from these two health care giants and others certainly merits attention from the industry at large.
Ultimately, Apple’s new devices and its healthcare software are not a revolution in healthcare technology, but could spur significant change and help consumer based healthcare management technology reach critical mass. The broad user base that Apple has across the country and the world could bring health management to millions of individuals, including older generation users (i.e., the Medicare population) who may have shied away from more “techy” devices and software. Apple’s entry into the field may also make the public more willing to explore similar devices in the future in the same way that the original cellular phones fostered the development of smartphones. Stakeholders in the healthcare, health information technology and health insurance industry should be aware of the impact Apple’s new devices and software may have (as well as the formation of some early alliances) and evaluate whether such technologies provide an opportunity to enhance their business.