From The Editor | June 3, 2014

Will Apple Revolutionize Healthcare?

ken congdon

By Ken Congdon

Ken Congdon, Editor In Chief of Health IT Outcomes

Apple has revolutionized the music industry, phone industry, and computing industry. Is healthcare next?1 That’s the question many are asking ever since the corporate giant unveiled its HealthKit platform at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) earlier this week. The announcement didn’t take the industry by complete surprise. In fact, the imminent arrival of an iOS-based healthcare app had been rumored for months, although most referred to the forthcoming program as HealthBook rather than HealthKit.  

Most of what was revealed about HealthKit at WWDC was pretty much what the industry expected. In essence, HealthKit is an Apple-native health tracking platform that provides users with a single interface in which to monitor key health metrics (e.g. heart rate, weight, activity level, blood pressure, caloric intake, glucose levels, etc.) from a variety of different third-party devices and apps. In essence, HealthKit provides users with a complete composite profile of their activity and health. Moreover, the app provides the capability for users to share their health data with their providers if desired. This is where the announcement got really interesting.

HealthKit’s Provider Play

While most anticipated the release of a consumer-centric wellness app from Apple, few expected HealthKit to have a significant provider play — at least not yet. However, Apple surprised many by announcing a partnership with the Mayo Clinic at WWDC. As it turns out, the Mayo Clinic worked with Apple to develop a provider-facing app that integrates with HealthKit. The app is designed to monitor data collected by a patient’s HealthKit app and notify the Mayo Clinic app based on a series of predefined parameters.

For example, if a patient takes a blood pressure reading, this information is automatically uploaded into his or her HealthKit app. If the reading is elevated based on the patient’s personal health profile, then HealthKit automatically notifies the Mayo Clinic app. With this information in hand, the hospital can proactively notify a doctor or contact the patient to provide more timely care. This collaboration clearly illustrates how patient-collected health data can be leveraged by a health provider to optimize care. The potential impact this type of integration can have on reducing hospital readmissions and driving down the cost of care is promising.

The Apple/Epic Factor

Finally, although few details were provided, Apple also revealed that EHR giant Epic Systems has successfully integrated with HealthKit as well. Apple’s VP of software engineering Craig Federighi suggested that a framework existed that would allow information collected from HealthKit to be automatically uploaded into a patients’ Epic MyChart record. Federighi even shared a slide with logos of all the major health systems currently using Epic’s EHR and said that patients at those facilities would benefit from a HealthKit integration with their providers.

So what does Apple’s HealthKit announcement mean for healthcare? Obviously, that has yet to be seen. However, one thing is clear — the healthcare industry needs to start taking Apple seriously. The HealthKit announcement, more than any other, illustrates Apple’s influence in the healthcare sector. The company can no longer be viewed simply as a consumer-focused business.

Moreover, while the Apple and Epic integration does little to promote the notion of open health data (both platforms are proprietary data silos), it does illustrate the powerful influence that can be achieved when two corporate giants choose to collaborate. Apple’s market strategy (and Epic’s for that matter) has never been to open its data up to the masses. It has been to build a platform so popular that other company’s choose to play in their sandbox. It seems like Apple is taking this approach to healthcare as well, and has selected Epic as its first partner. It will be interesting to see if other major EHR players (e.g. Cerner, Meditech, etc.) follow suit and build their own integrations with HealthKit.       

1. I can’t take credit for the opening line of this article. It was taken from a recent tweet posted by Inder Singh (@inderstweet).