Apple looks to expand healthcare presence

January 11, 2017
Keith Loria
Keith Loria

Keith Loria is a contributing writer to Medical Economics.

The tech giant plans to immerse itself more in healthcare in the years ahead

Email exchanges between Apple and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently revealed the tech giant’s plans to initiate itself in the healthcare world, which many believe will result in new products that will make the lives of primary care doctors easier and could improve doctor-patient relationships.

 

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“Apple has been enormously successful with its technology and brand power among consumers, so Apple’s entry into the healthcare industry is at least beneficial in raising consumer awareness of exciting health and wellness solutions and raising the standards in user experience design,” says Harry Wang, senior research director at Parks Associates, a consulting company specializing in emerging consumer technology products and services. “Apple has bigger ambition beyond this influence, of course.”

Apple’s plans apparently hint at the development of three regulated medical products-an app to diagnose Parkinson’s disease and two cardiac devices-as well as other technical advancements to further get involved in the industry.

Tamara St. Claire, chief innovation officer for Commercial Healthcare at Xerox, notes Apple’s involvement in healthcare very directly shows what many have known for some time: The lines between technology and healthcare are becoming increasingly blurred.

“They aren’t musing about getting into healthcare-they already are in healthcare,” she tells Medical Economics. “The ResearchKit (an open source framework introduced by Apple that enables your iOS app to become a powerful tool for medical research) and the app-store on their own allow others to create and distribute FDA-approved and non-FDA-approved health applications.”

 

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Physicians today are overwhelmed with requests from patients on whether they should be downloading apps, or which specific apps to download. Apple becoming even more involved in healthcare, therefore, could really move the needle in digital health and healthcare delivery.

“Digital health is incredibly fragmented, so Apple could be what the industry needs,” St. Claire says. “It could distinguish itself from the herd and stand out because of its proven ability to create ubiquity.”

Wang notes that primary care doctors’ focus is not about technology but how to adapt their practices in the current environment where payment models shift to value-based care.

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“Technology will improve their productivity if designed properly and integrated into their workflow seamlessly,” he says. “If Apple can assist in this way, it will translate into great opportunities.”

Bertalan Mesko, Ph.D., the medical futurist and author of “My Health: Upgraded” and “The Guide to the Future of Medicine,” says while technology companies have experience in adopting new technologies, many have not been successful in healthcare (e.g. Google Health, Microsoft Healthvault).

“A huge tech company diving into healthcare would mean regulatory agencies would be pushed forward to welcome innovation quicker while still keeping products safe and regulated,” he says in an email. “A crucial issue is price, because if a health technology is not affordable, it’s not disruptive enough and cannot reach enough people.”

He believes that no matter what health technology primary care physicians implement into their practices, more data with smarter data analytics would help them make better decisions with their patients.

 

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“It’s certainly good that the lines between healthcare and technology get more blurred day by day,” Mesko says. “Healthcare must be digitized, otherwise there is no data to base decisions on. Health reports, public health data, medical records and even data from home sensors should be brought together and analyzed with smart algorithms to extend the capabilities of physicians and put data into the hands of patients.”

Wayne Lipton, founder and managing partner of Concierge Choice Physicians, says it’s interesting to see that Apple is looking heavily into making their devices monitor and maintain medical information and feels that a move toward any more than a baby step into medical/exercise information would be a huge challenge.

“There are many existing initiatives to have more information readily available, not only to vertically integrated systems but also to providers and medical professionals outside of those systems,” he says. “Overall, however, there has been a tendency to avoid the idea of a universal repository for medical information. Making the information available on a personal device implies a cloud-based repository that is somewhat universal.”

 

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As Apple’s efforts have not been convincing so far, Mesko remains a skeptic, but he hopes that the tech giant-or some company-invests heavily in making the lives of patients and the work of physicians better.

“I just encourage them to do it and listen to the needs of patients to make sure they do not only develop new solutions for people within the ivory tower of medicine,” he says.