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The First Footfall: What Apple’s “HealthKit” Announcement Means to Healthcare


Pharmaceutical Executive

Among the many announcements Apple made earlier this month at its annual World Wide Developer’s Conference, one was of particular interest to the healthcare industry.

Bill Drummy

Among the many announcements Apple made earlier this month at its annual World Wide Developer’s Conference, one was of particular interest to the healthcare industry. Apple unveiled “HealthKit”, which is really a developer’s toolbox that allows makers of health and medical devices (e.g. Fitbit, UP, Misfit, iHealth) to more seamlessly integrate their offerings with Apple’s newest mobile operating system, iOS8.

Sounds pretty geeky, I know. But there are at least two big implications of this move that every good healthcare executive should be keep on the front burner of your brain. The first is obvious, the second less so.

I will address the more obvious - but to my mind less important - implication first: Providing the toolkit means Apple is essentially unlocking their system (a very un-Apple like move) to make it easier for a broad range of third party coders and device developers to engage with iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. This should lead, in a matter of months, to much more useful products and easier transfer of health-related data through the digital ecosystem (privacy rules permitting.) All in all a good and sensible thing.

But the bigger implication (which was unstated but may be presumed) is that Apple is getting directly into the healthcare business in a BIG way. The long rumored “iWatch” is likely to be much, much more than this: really a comprehensive sensing device, tracking everything from activity, to heart rate, to sleep cycles to who-knows-what else, a pulse oximeter, a seizure alert system. I wouldn’t be surprised if it did ALL of these things. (BTW, before the Apple secrecy police descend on me, I have absolutely no insider information about this, I’m just making deductions.)

Why do I think this will be a truly big deal? Because Apple has done NOTHING of any true novelty in the three years since Steve Jobs died, only incremental improvements on existing products (“Now the earphone jack is on the bottom!” as Samsung so incisively lampooned Apple’s iPhone ‘improvements.’) So either Apple has completely lost their innovation mojo, or they have been carefully planning and developing the next generation of technologies, while milking their extraordinary profit margins in the meantime.

I’m betting on the latter scenario. Which makes me think that “HealthKit” is a leading indicator for much bigger things to come. While market research firm Canalys predicts 45 million “healthwear” devices will be in the market by 2017, that’s really the wrong way to look at it. With Apple’s coming moves, what this means is that hundreds of millions of “healthwear” devices are already on the market. Ready to be activated. And ready to have a dramatic impact on health and fitness.

Once health tracking becomes radically simple and social, it begins to have a dramatic impact on health behaviors. So the implications in diabetes, cardiovascular, and autoimmune diseases (to name only the most obvious) are truly significant. Now there will be a much more practical way for patient behavior (and the impact of therapies) to be tied to patient outcomes. And this is where the entire healthcare ecosystem is going. The only real solution to bending the healthcare cost curve down. You can bet on that.

And you should.

So the real news from this week is not significant only (or even mostly) to hoodie-wearing developers. No, the real impact will be on khaki-clad healthcare executives who are looking for better ways to improve health outcomes, and (primarily) to prove the safety and efficacy of their products. Apple is jumping in as a new, and formidable, healthcare company. If you play your cards right (and play them early) this could bring a great competitive advantage to you.

To take just one example:
Imagine your company creates a program using HealthKit that enables patients in a clinical trial to have their vitals monitored on the fly, and then the impact of the medication on those patients could be updated in real time. How much might that improve the data in the trial and (perhaps) enable positive improvements in the label?

Such is the potential Apple teased out into the market this week.

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