Putting Apple + Health in Perspective


Apple is getting a lot of health-related press, for several reasons:

  • Apple announced its Health application, which will display health information collected using apps and connected devices. From what I’ve seen, it looks like UIs and screens for blood pressure and weight, for example. It is meant to provide a unified view of health information gathered by apps and devices. Health is a part of iOS 8, launching this fall.
  • Apple announced HealthKit, which allows app developers to pass health-related information to Apple. It’s an API according to Apple’s definition in its license agreement with iOS app developers, but is really Apple’s attempt to become a health data hub, much in the same way its become a personal payment hub by collecting the credit card numbers of hundreds of millions of people. Apple has also announced partnerships with Epic and beta sites like Mayo, making the HealthKit API more appealing and potentially valuable. HealthKit is also part of iOS 8.
  • Apple updated its license agreement with iOS developers ahead of the launch of Health and HealthKit. This has been news the past week even though Apple made the changes three months ago. The updates specifically address the use and sale of health data that is a part of HealthKit. Apple is putting limits of use of the data for health and fitness only and not for resale for marketing. The press is positive for Apple. Of note with regards to Apple and its stance on PHI and HIPAA, the only reference it makes to HIPAA in its License Agreement is in reference to iCloud usage, which from what I can gather is separate and distinct from Health and HealthKit; Apple clearly states that iCloud is not meant for PHI and Apple is not to be considered a business associate.
  • Apple is rumored to be announcing its new smartwatch, often referred to as the iWatch, at an event next week. The iWatch, or hopefully some more creative name, will have functionality to track activity and potentially other biometric data like heart rate and temperature. It makes sense that Apple would be releasing its new smartwatch this fall with Health, HealthKit, and iOS 8.
  • Apple is supposedly in talks with mega-payers United and Humana about HealthKit. I’d bet this one is true. I think Apple has been talking to large healthcare enterprises for years, just not publicly.

Put it all together and it seems Apple is really moving into healthcare. It’s big and newsworthy that the company is pushing this hard, especially that it’s centering that push on mobile and on data. However, Apple won’t be the magic bullet to engage patients, reduce the cost of care, bring price transparency to consumers, improve outcomes, help providers function better around patient-centered medical homes, reduce readmissions, reduce end-of-life costs, and make the overall experience healthcare a more satisfying one.

For all the power and press of Apple, it’s not the ubiquitous, market-leading consumer electronics force that touches everybody. For minorities or those with lower incomes — population segments that are important in healthcare — Samsung would be a better fit even though it’s still not big enough, as would mobile carriers because they deliver SMS, which goes everywhere.

Apple won’t fix healthcare. But Apple’s creating an API to help app developers share health data is a great start. Allowing developers to access that data with individual permissions and create customized experiences, is super. Getting Epic to open up MyChart and potentially sharing data from consumer apps with Epic and maybe vice versa would be a huge step forward.

Apple will have success in healthcare, but that’s because healthcare is so massive that even a company like Apple can be successful without touching the whole market. My hope is not that Apple will fix healthcare, but instead will drive others to follow its lead in opening up APIs (which will make the industry more appealing to developers and designers) and that others will follow in putting consumers in the driver’s seat for owning their health data.


Travis Good, MD/MBA, is co-founder of Catalyze. More about me.

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