Apple Flexes Muscles in Health Field

Apple has begun ramping up for an incursion into the healthcare market, two months after announcing its HealthKit app at WWDC.

The app will collate all a user’s fitness and health data.

Apple has discussed HealthKit with healthcare providers Mount Sinai, the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins, along with electronic health records provider Allscripts, Reuters reported this week.

Allscripts is a competitor to Epic, which recently inked a partnership deal with Apple, also announced at WWDC.

Apple partners include Nike and the Mayo Clinic as well. The latter reportedly is testing a service that alerts patients when results from apps and devices they use are abnormal, and makes follow-up information and treatment recommendations.

Kaiser Permanente is piloting several mobile apps that leverage HealthKit, according to Reuters.

The Ghost in the Machine?

HealthKit and its associated developers’ tools were announced only in June, and HealthKit is a feature in iOS 8 that will run on the iPhone 6, neither of which has yet been released. So, it’s a little difficult to understand how anyone might be piloting mobile apps leveraging HealthKit.

Still, “any vendor that can get a significant healthcare provider to recommend or require a product will move into the market much faster than with any consumer marketing campaign,” said Ezra Gottheil, principal analyst in the computing practice at Technology Business Research (TBR).

The Healthcare Roller Derby

“Apple appears ready to transform healthcare, a complex and fragmented industry — slowest to technology adoption,” Harry Wang, director of mobile and health research at Parks Associates, told TechNewsWorld.

While iPads and iPhones are commonly used in healthcare, Apple is far from having a lock on the market, though.

Google recently announced Google Fit, an open platform that lets users control their fitness data, and this week released the SDK for developers’ preview. Google X Labs is seeking 175 volunteers to provide bodily samples so it can create their biochemical fingerprints in an effort to create a baseline for a healthy body.

Google last year announced Calico, a company that will focus on health and well-being, as well as explore how technology can tackle aging and associated diseases.

“Google is talking more about developer tools, and Apple is talking more about data storage and security, but the offerings are similar,” TBR’s Gottheil told TechNewsWorld.

That’s possibly because Google “was burned by its Google Health venture several years ago,” Parks’ Wang suggested.

Samsung is also in the race, having launched the SAMI platform and S Health app for its e-health business, but “it may not have the right mix of software and platform expertise to draw enough developer support and partner interest,” Wang said.

On the other hand, Samsung “does have a strong brand and a large installed smartphone user base in the U.S., so no healthcare partners will ignore [its] call,” Wang surmised.

The Tattletale Wearables Are Coming

It’s possible that all wearable technology devices will provide feedback on users’ health data to a smartphone or other similar hub device from Apple, Google or Samsung.

HealthKit may connect to an Apple iWatch or even iTV in the future, “and possibly Apple TV as well,” Wang said.

It might even be extended to OS X, because Apple “is constantly working on helping them collaborate,” Gottheil suggested.

Show Me the Money

The potential rewards are great.

Parks Associates defines the connected health market narrowly, focusing on specific health applications and services, but still estimates the market will be worth US$30 billion in the U.S. alone in the next five years, so “the growth will be substantial,” Wang said.

Apple “does want to lay its groundwork, and have a real impact on people’s health and well being.” Wang observed. “By becoming a critical enabler in the $3 trillion healthcare industry, it will be rewarded, if not in the near future.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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