The Apple EMR

It’s fun to speculate about what might happen if a giant like Apple were to move into healthcare. Google flopped with Google Health, though it continues to push with more interesting offerings like Helpouts, HIPAA-complaint Google Apps, and its recent investment in Calico. Now we’re seeing Google Glass being touted in healthcare for everything from telemedicine to access to device and EHR data. Facebook integrated organ donation registries with some early success. Microsoft was famously unsuccessful with Amalga although it’s doing more than just that.

Lt. Dan reported this week that Apple may be entering the healthcare market with a new "Healthbook" application rumored to be included in iOS 8. Additional rumors are that Healthbook, which is supposed to be similar to Passbook, will be integrated with the much-speculated iWatch. Supposedly the iWatch is going to be able to track lots of different biometric data, including temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and potentially more. At this point, this is really nothing more than rumors, though I think it’s a safe bet that Apple is going to be moving into the health and wellness space, either with an integrated iOS app, a device like the iWatch, or some combination thereof.

What’s interesting about this, more so than how Facebook and Google dipped their toes into healthcare the first time around, is that Apple usually goes big when it does something new. Apple generally enters new verticals and markets in very big ways — music, phones, tablets, movies. This doesn’t mean it always succeeds. iBooks was a bit of a flop, but not because of lack of trying — I still get all of my books from Amazon. Apple Maps is so far inferior to Google Maps that it’s a blemish on iOS. I have no idea what the numbers look like, but iCloud has never even been worth trying to me. Despite using iTunes for a few years, I get all of my music through Rdio now.

I’ve also read that Passbook hasn’t been a smashing success the way that Apple had hoped. I like using Passbook for travel (plane and train tickets) and for Starbucks payments, but that’s about it. I’d certainly use Passbook more if I could pay for things with it, like a Passbook credit card. And if Apple does launch its health app with a similar experience to Passbook, which makes sense to me, I don’t think it’s going to do it by simply displaying data from third-party apps like Fitbit, Runkeeper, and Nike. I really don’t think Apple is going to launch Healthbook as a simple viewer of other app and device data. Apple could potentially integrate data from apps like Fitbit, but I think Apple will create proprietary and ideally aggregated views of the data.

That would be cool, certainly cooler than any PHR I’ve seen. It would be something I’d use, or at least I think I’d use. There is a still a hole in the market in terms of easily aggregating data from different apps. My litmus test for "hard" vs. "easy" is if my wife can do it easily, and today she can’t. She can use Tumblr, SMS, Path, email, Epic, and Vista, so I think unifying self-reported data should be easy for her if it’s going to scale. I’ve tried it myself, several times, and it’s not much fun, though I can do it. But what has gotten much easier on iOS over the last couple of years is app-to-app communication.

What would be interesting would be if Healthbook included insurance info or HSA info. It would be a bit like Medlio, but just pull data from apps from payers, sort of like how it would pull data from apps like Fitbit. If Apple is creating this as a set of cards, like Passbook, a financial card for healthcare would be a valuable addition.

An interesting and innovative path this might take is with the device angle, what people are calling the iWatch. Basis and Samsung are already there, as are Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike, and a host of others. But Apple has a decent track record of entering markets with new lines of hardware and redefining the category, as in MP3s and smartphones.

Fred Wilson, one of my favorite VC bloggers, writes about how Healthbook could be integrated at provider offices and gyms using buttons like "auth with Healthbook." I can’t see Apple doing that. Others will have to create Blue Button connectors, or connectors to other data sources, and then Apple will try and consume and aggregate that data from apps. Basically Apple will let others do the heavy lifting while it uses its market position to convince developers to share data.

What do you think? I’m skeptical about this being a home run for Apple or disrupting healthcare in a big way, simply because I can’t see the massive uptake needed to be impactful. Then again I could be wrong. Apple re-imagined the relationship and put itself in the middle of publishers and consumers and it did the same thing largely with mobile carriers. Another major ding against Apple is that it doesn’t play well with others and it tends to dictate terms in many of its relationships with partners. Wait –that seems to a sign of a winner in healthcare.


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

  • Steve McCallister

    Apple makes very nice hardware and, as you say, they tend to “go big” in these areas. My primary concern is that Apple habitually makes closed proprietary solutions (e.g., Facetime, iBooks, etc.) and we need a healthcare ecosystem that’s open to innovation and collaboration. Still, Apple brings excitement and focus to products, and its rivalry with the Android and specifically Samsung could very well drive these products forward much more quickly.

  • KBC

    The opportunities, if done right, are amazing for consumers. To have all your medical information in once place instead of piecemealed across numerous apps, spreadsheets, etc is very valuable…not only to consumers, but also to physicians and other providers. However, whether or not Apple gets into the space at all, not to mention successfully, it all comes down to the same thing it always does… consumers taking responsibility for their own health and healthcare. Until that happens, it doesn’t matter how successful Apple or anyone else does aggregating all these apps and data, it will ultimately be a bizmal failure.

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