Is Apple HealthKit Headed For Hospital Dominance?

Posted on February 12, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Even for a company with the cash and reach of Apple, crashing the healthcare party is quite an undertaking.  Not only does healthcare come with unique technical challenges, it’s quite the conservative business, in many cases clinging to old technologies and approaches longer than other data-driven industries.

Of late, however, Apple’s HealthKit has attracted the attention of some high-profile healthcare institutions, such as New Orleans-based Ochsner Medical Center and Stanford Healthcare. All told, a total of fourteen major U.S. hospitals are running trials of HealthKit. What’s more, more than 600 developers are integrating HealthKit tech into their own health and fitness apps.

What’s particularly interesting is that some of these healthcare organizations are integrating Apple’s new patient-facing, iOS HealthKit app with Epic EMRs and the HealthKit enterprise platform.  If this works out, it could vault Apple into a much more lucrative position in the industry, as bringing together health app, platform and EMR accomplishes one of the major steps in leveraging mobile health.

According to MobiHealthNews, the new app allows patients to check out test results, manage prescriptions, set appointments, hold video visits with Stanford doctors, review medical bills — and perhaps most significantly, upload their vital signs remotely and have the data added to their Epic chart. This is a big step forward for hospitals, but even more so for doctors, many of whom have warned that they have no time to manage a separate stream of mobile patient data as part of patient care.

For Apple leaders, the next step will be to roll out the upcoming Apple Watch and integrate it into its expanding Internet of Apple Healthcare Things. CEO Tim Cook is pitching the Apple Watch as a key component in promoting consumer health. While the iPhone gathers data, the smart watch will proactively remind consumers to move. “If I sit for too long, it will actually tap me on the wrist to remind me to get up and move, because a lot of doctors think sitting is the new cancer,” Cook told an audience at an investor conference recently.

All that being said, it’s not as though Apple is marching through healthcare corridor’s unopposed. For example, Samsung is very focused on becoming the mobile healthcare  technology provider of choice. For example, in November, Samsung announced relationships with 24 health IT partners, including Aetna, the Cleveland Clinic and Cigna.

At its second annual developer conference last December, Samsung introduced an array of software tools designed to support the buildout of a digital health ecosystem, including the Samsung Digital Health SDK and Gear S SDK, which lets app makers create software compatible with Samsung’s smart watches. Also, Samsung is already on the second generation of its Simband reference design for wearable device design, as well as the cloud-based Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions, which collects sensor data.

And Microsoft, of course, is not going to sit and watch idly as a multibillion-dollar market goes to competitors. For example, late last year the tech giant launched a fitness tracking wristband and mobile health app. It’s also kicked off a HealthKit-like platform, imaginatively dubbed Microsoft Health, which among other things, allows fitness band users to store data and transfer it to the Microsoft Health app. Microsoft isn’t winning the PR war as of yet — Apple still has a gift for doing that — but have no doubt that it’s lurking in the swamps like an alligator, ready to close its powerful jaws on the next right opportunity to expand its healthcare presence.

Bottom line, Apple has captured some big-name pilot testers for its HealthKit platform and related products, but the game is just beginning. Having users in place is a good start, but Apple is miles away from being able to declare itself the leader in the emerging hospital mobile health market.