Some of the world’s leading health care providers — Mount Sinai, the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins — are reportedly in talks with Apple about using the tech giant’s new HealthKit, mobile software to collect and store health care data, at their facilities, according to a report today by Reuters.
The news agency reports that the talks are in early stages and may not amount to anything concrete, but they illuminate Apple’s seriousness about making a splash in the booming health tech industry by creating the go-to app for consolidating patient health data, such as blood pressure, pulse and weight, and making it available for consumers and health providers to view.
Apple’s Health app, which will roll out with iOS 8 likely this fall, offers a dashboard where users can track their sleep, nutrition, allergies, calories burned, daily exercise, heart rate and blood sugar. But HealthKit is a tool for developers that will allow mobile apps to collect and store health data from different sources, and share it between patients and doctors, allowing physicians to better monitor and treat their patients between hospital visits. Currently, this data is being collected by thousands of third-party health care software applications and medical devices, but it isn’t centrally stored, Reuters said.
The Cupertino tech giant has a partnership with Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic, which is reportedly testing a service to flag patients when results from apps and devices are abnormal, with follow-up information and treatment recommendations, according to Reuters. Apple is also in talks with Allscripts, a Chicago-based electronic health care provider.
Apple is part of a legion of tech companies aiming to solve the runaway costs and inefficiencies of the health care system. Startups are creating virtual doctor apps, such as Doctor on Demand and soon-to-launch PlushCare, to solve the overuse of urgent care and lengthy appointment wait times. AppVisit is a messaging app for patients and health care providers discuss ailments and treatment, and ZocDoc is an online appointment scheduler. Giants Google and Samsung are getting into the game, with Fit for Android and the UCSF-Samsung Digital Health Innovation Lab. And of course, there are dozens of fitness apps for your smartphone or smartwatch, and wearable devices such as the Fitbit, that aim to give consumers more control over their health.
Health care has notoriously been a thorny area to try and disrupt because it is so highly regulated. Any app or cloud software that collects and stores patient information may be subject to HIPPA, or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which requires encryption and high levels of security. Companies aiming to create new treatment or medical devices often have to go through the lengthy and laborious Food and Drug Administration approval process, which can bankrupt a company before it even gets off the ground, and has long been a turnoff for VCs who are looking to make a quicker return.
Apple, though, has the deep pockets and staying power that startups do not.
But as consumers have started to show more interest in high-tech health, so too have venture capitalists. Firms invested $632 million into biotech in the second quarter, more than double the amount in the first quarter. and investments in health care service jumped rose $40.5 million. In Silicon Valley, there were 13 healthcare tech company IPOs during the first half of 2014.
Margit Wennmachers, a marketing guru at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, which recently invested in digital health company Omada Health, said the space is growing now because in the past there weren’t many good ways to apply software to health care. “But that is all changing,” she said. “What we are looking for is the intersection of software and health services, but that is not slowed down by regulation.”
Photo from Apple.com