A quick look at why Apple is leaning into the healthcare industry
We’ve known for some time now that the Apple Watch is great for the casual fitness enthusiast who’s addicted to closing rings and tracking their steps, but for Apple, that’s just a small part of it. a much larger plan that they must dominate health and fitness. space.
“If you zoom out into the future and look back and ask the question. What has been Apple’s greatest contribution to humanity? It will be a matter of health. – Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
What happens when a trillion dollar company sees an industry relatively untouched by traditional tech companies and worth trillions?
An opportunity for future growth.
When the Apple Watch was first announced it seemed like a very expensive way to see notifications on your wrist, but as more and newer models came out, we’ve seen Apple add more and more. more health features to the device.
And it seems Apple has realized that the market is hungry for health tracking technology, especially when it comes to fitness, with joint ventures between Apple and Nike.
Of all their products, the one that has seen the strongest growth is their wearables, home and accessories business. It has experienced the strongest growth on average of nearly 9% quarter over quarter and 35% year over year since 2017 according to CNBC.
And according to Tim Cook himself, wearable revenues are already 50% higher than iPods at their peak.
Apple realized that not only is there a huge potential in the space to make money, but that with portable devices, in particular, they may be able to capture a larger segment of people. who would otherwise need a specific medical device.
Software and of course Hardware.
They have the unique ability to develop an ecosystem like they did with iOS, but which revolves more around health.
They can produce the hardware, like the Apple Watch, to track and monitor various vital items, but on top of that, they can provide the software to make the experience easier and more seamless for the people in their lives of all. days.
Imagine that instead of having to test your heart rate in a hospital or pharmacy, your Apple Watch could alert you when your heart rate is too high or your heartbeat is irregular. With the Apple Watch’s ECG technology, that’s exactly what it can do today.
We have seen cases where this sort of thing can save lives. An example of this comes from a CBS article.
“The watch struck me… I looked down and she said you had atrial fibrillation, she told me I wasn’t feeling as well as I thought.” Ray Emerson, a 79-year-old veterinarian from Waco, Texas, said CBS Austin. “
Emerson’s case was later confirmed by doctors to be arterial fibrillation and he underwent surgery, but it shows how such technology can potentially save lives.
The other side of this is of course the software.
Currently, Apple’s Health app is just something that stores data on the measurements you’ve taken and possibly heart data from the Apple Watch. But in the future, Apple could use it to store all of your medical data, as well as the data it collects from tracking your vital signs.
Apple is also trying to create software not only for people, but also for the health care system in general.
According to Bloomberg, the two main issues Apple is currently working on in this space are helping hospitals transfer data between them and helping doctors make sense of all the data they receive to help them better understand their patients and their patients. needs.
Other useful apps developed by Apple include CareKit and ResearchKit. Both of these tools could be used by third-party developers and scientists to build on Apple’s ecosystem. You can find out more about here.
Apple Watch Features
Apple has slowly and steadily added more and more to its Apple Watch in terms of health and wellness. Features such as
- the ECG sensor used to find problems in the heart such as arterial fibrillation,
- Low-end VO2 levels that are used to determine the maximum amount of oxygen that you can use during exercise. It is commonly used to test the aerobic endurance or cardiovascular fitness of athletes before and at the end of a training cycle.
- Sleep monitoring, for those who need to know if the quality of their sleep is adequate.
- Oxygen sensor in the blood introduced on the new 6 series allows people to record the oxygen saturation in their blood. SpO2 represents the percentage of oxygen carried by red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body and indicates how well this oxygenated blood is distributed throughout the body.
- Heart rate sensor. It’s pretty basic but can be used to alert you if your heart rate is too high or too low.
- Fall detection. A really important feature, especially for the elderly.
For more information on which model has what functionality, I recommend going to Apple’s website.
The most important segment Apple can target is chronic diseases like diabetes, and both Apple and Google have tried to work on technologies that can monitor glucose levels non-invasively to help people who suffer from it.
They recently started working in partnership with a company called Dexcom that makes diabetes monitoring systems.
The implementation of Dexcom is not entirely non-invasive as it requires the insertion of a sensor of small hair size under your skin. But it’s pretty close and once installed, users can receive live blood sugar updates on their Apple device.
This helps Apple (and Google) in two ways.
First, they don’t have to produce the medical device, which means they don’t have to deal with the regulations and tests involved in this process.
Second, they can try partnerships like the one with Dexcom and see whether or not this will be a viable solution where they can connect to third-party medical grade devices and provide the necessary software support.
Another future feature could be blood pressure monitoring.
Currently, the technology is not mature for precise measurements on a watch, but it does exist and companies like Samsung already have the technology available on their own smartwatch on their smartwatch.
As it continues to develop, I would expect accuracy to increase and be more viable on devices like the Apple Watch.
Almost one in two adults in the United States has high blood pressure (108 million). And making this technology available to consumers could be hugely beneficial in letting people know what activities or foods may be unsafe for them and whether they should seek further medical assistance.
Obviously, being able to track vital signs is great, but only when you need to.
Some healthcare professionals are concerned that young, healthy individuals may monitor their heart activity and overanalyze the result. This can cause anxiety in people who really shouldn’t have to worry.
The other major risk, as C. Seth Landefeld, president of the University of Alabama’s Department of Medicine, explains, is that the benefits may not outweigh the risks when it comes to extensive monitoring of the electrocardiogram.
Dr Landefeld has advised against using the ECG monitor on the Apple Watch because the rate of false positives in the general population may increase and surgeries such as bypass surgery may be unnecessarily recommended. This type of surgery has a death rate of 1-2%, according to the doctor, and the majority of people who own Apple watches aren’t necessarily the ones who even have to check their heart rate.
While the functionality is useful. It may be best if only those at high risk use them regularly, while the average healthy adult should have little to worry about.
It is possible that in the future the Apple Watch will come with features disabled through software and then re-enabled if your doctor thinks it may be necessary or beneficial for your specific case, but for now, everyone. world with an Apple Watch can use the feature and studies are underway to determine the pros and cons of this feature.
With regard to health and in particular “medical technology” such as blood sugar testing, the FDA will regulate these products as medical devices for obvious safety reasons.
Apple has, however, been cautious when it comes to dealing with this type of regulation, keeping its products in the wellness category and not classifying itself as a manufacturer of medical devices.
Currently, the Apple Watch has a De Novo classification and the FDA has cleared (unapproved) the use of ECGs and the ability to detect and notify users of irregular heart rhythms, but notes that it shouldn’t not be used by minors. from 22.
As Apple adds more and more features, regulators will begin to be more and more scrutinized, and Apple will therefore need to balance their introduction into healthcare and their legal position as a maker of healthcare devices. well-being.
At least until they’re sure they’ve got something specific enough that it won’t endanger people’s lives. Or have a way to enable or disable features through software.
These novelties from Apple are really interesting but it is clear that its development will be slow and measured. Apple will likely continue to push more towards fitness and wellness (like sleep tracking) to provide more utility to consumers in the short term while in the long term they will strive to create a health ecosystem. appropriate.
This type of ecosystem will be huge for Apple, not only because of the amount of money they would generate from all the services they would provide, but also the retention they would receive. If your health data was on Apple servers, you would be much less likely to switch to another device. In fact, it would likely encourage people to invest more in Apple’s line of products and services.
- The healthcare industry is a huge trillion dollar industry and Apple sees huge potential growth in this sector.
- He took steps to enter the industry through software like Apple Health, CareKit and Research Kit. But also via equipment with sensors on the Apple Watch and via partnerships with manufacturers of third-party medical devices.
- This is the biggest hurdle going forward with regulators and healthcare professionals who may think the data is unnecessary for the general population and may do more harm than good.