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Apple reveals newest app. Could it change health care?

June 3, 2014

    Dan Diamond, Managing Editor

    After months of anticipation, Apple on Monday unveiled its new Health app, its cloud-based information platform known as "HealthKit," and a slew of new partnerships with Epic Systems, Mayo Clinic, and a number of other hospitals.  

    The open question: Will Apple's big play for the health care market end up changing the industry—and if so, how soon?

    The much-anticipated announcement came during Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, with Apple touting how its new iOS 8 operating system will allow developers to generate new health and fitness apps.

    Here are three key takeaways.

    That Apple is rolling out two separate platforms: Health and HealthKit

    When screenshots of Apple's new venture were first leaked, it was thought that there would be a single app, which at the time was code-named "Healthbook." (You can read up on the background for Healthbook here.)

    Instead, Apple split their offering into two separate platforms. "Health" is the user-facing application, designed to be the catch-all that gives users a sense for basic metrics and key wellness measures. I've pasted a screenshot of that new app below.

    Meanwhile, Apple's new HealthKit is the platform that integrates data from across different providers and is open to developers. "With your permission, each app can use specific information from other apps to provide a more comprehensive way to manage your health and fitness," according to an Apple release.

    "For example, your blood pressure app could share its data with a physician app, such as the Mayo Clinic app, so your doctor can provide high-quality guidance and care."

    Apple's partnership with Epic

    It's still unclear exactly how the alliance between the nation's leading provider of smartphones and the health industry's dominant seller of electronic records is structured, or what it's intended to produce for doctors and hospitals.

    However, the announcement that the two companies have teamed up suggests that Apple and Epic have developed "a framework for getting information collected via HealthKit into patients’ MyChart app," Jonah Comstock writes at mobihealthnews. That could potentially strengthen Epic's position and make their charts even more useful to doctors and hospitals, as Apple's widely used iPhones might drive more comprehensive data collection.

    Other observers were less charitable—especially given the simmering issues in the industry over interoperability. "Two closed systems sync up," Matthew Holt, a co-founder of The Health Care Blog, groused on Twitter. (Unlike some of its competitors' products, Apple's iOS is famously a "closed garden" and not readily interoperable—even with other Apple products.)

    The company's partnerships with providers

    Beyond the much-discussed alliance with Mayo Clinic, Apple also has teamed up with Stanford Hospitals, UCLA, and even Cambridge University Hospitals NHS. (The company posted a list of provider partners as part of its talk.) 

    In a statement, Mayo Clinic's John Noseworthy said that his organization is "proud to be at the forefront of this innovative technology."

    "We believe Apple’s HealthKit will revolutionize how the health industry interacts with people," Noseworthy added.

    What it means

    Adam Powell, president of  Payer+Provider Syndicate, told FierceMobileHealthcare that Apple's entry into the mobile health market is a sign that the market is "ready to explode."

    "Apple tends to wait on the sidelines," Powell added. "It didn't produce the first mp3 player, smartphone or tablet, but was successful in popularizing those devices upon entering their respective markets."

    Apple's announcement was also interestingly timed: The Worldwide Developers Conference in San Diego coincided with Health Datapalooza in Washington, D.C., where many health IT leaders were discussing the future of data collection and personal care management.

    Speaking at Health Datapalooza, Jay Nagy of the Advisory Board pointed to a recent survey that more than 50% of consumers are interested in buying wearable technologies, such as fitness monitors. Nagy also noted the broader industry push toward collecting clinically relevant data outside of clinical settings—which puts pressure on providers to learn how to partner with patients on data collection.

    Apple's announcement may add some pressure, too.

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