Will HealthKit and Samsung Empower Patients?

Apple and Samsung are jumping into digital health. Apple is getting the bulk of the press, but Samsung has impressive market share both in the US and globally. It has beaten Apple to market in other aspects of digital health, such as the wearables space, although getting to market before Apple doesn’t always mean beating Apple in the long run.

Regardless of which company (if either) wins, both Samsung and Apple want to help app developers, consumers, and even healthcare providers aggregate and access health data. They will be putting significant resources towards those goals.

My conversation with a colleague yesterday revolved around what effect Samsung and Apple will have on consumer perceptions of health data, patient engagement, and patient ownership of health records. I hadn’t considered it in that way.

Patient ownership of health data is an important goal. Some  believe it’s the first step towards effectively engaging patients and having them take ownership of their health. Programs such as OpenNotes have helped spearhead this. OpenNotes has also helped create a base of evidence in support of patient and consumer ownership of health data.

Samsung and Apple have a role to play in this even if it turns out to be largely perceptive. For better or worse, Apple and Samsung are closer to consumers than most healthcare providers, systems, and payers. Maybe they aren’t closer to certain groups of the population, but they have more touch points and pay more attention to ongoing cues from individuals than we do in healthcare. Those companies know more of what individuals are looking for, at least when it comes to products that Apple and Samsung can offer over mobile.

Samsung and Apple mobile platforms for aggregating health data can behave as a mobile wallet, but with health data instead of credit cards and banking information. Mobile devices are personal, and people tend to associate ownership with things stored on them. 

Mobile wallets — and Apple’s Passbook to a certain extent – can change the way we think about payments. Mobile health platforms can change perceptions about what health data is, who owns it, who has access to it, and ultimately what you can do with it. Mobile wallets are freeing us from our credit cards and frequent buyer cards. Hopefully Apple and Samsung can free us from thinking of health data as something external to us that is locked up with providers and payers.

This change is going to take some time. Initially, the data that is going to be aggregated by Apple and Samsung will be wellness and tracking related. Initial users will be motivated healthy people who don’t place as much stock in traditional medical data because they haven’t had many ongoing issues.

Most people won’t associate activity data (steps, miles run, calories consumed) with traditional health data. Maybe medical data is better name for it. Activity doesn’t hold the same association as medication lists and allergies. But if Apple effectively combines HealthKit data with Epic (in either direction), or Samsung mashes up steps with medical data from UCSF, the lines between self-reported, ongoing activity data and traditional health data will start to blur.

That’s a good thing for a few reasons. Most people think the data they track related to miles run and steps taken is theirs, not owned by a provider or payer. Combining that with data from a medical record will drive people to perceive more ownership over the rest of the medical record. That perceptive change is hard to quantify, but may be one of the biggest potential benefits of Apple and Samsung pushing into healthcare data.

The question of who truly owns the data is another story. I’m talking here about the perceptions of individuals. Apple and Samsung may "own" the health data in that they will use it to market more effectively or leverage it to drive more provider users to their platform. Or they may use to increase switching costs off of their mobile platforms. But I don’t think that changes how consumers will view the data.


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

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