Apple Enters Health Care Space With HealthKit and Some Suspense

NEWS ANALYSIS: Apple has announced its intentions to enter the health care market, but even its potential will likely remain unclear until the fall.

Apple iOS 8

Apple, as expected, announced its entry into the health care market during the keynote address of its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) June 2.

What it shared was brief but intriguing—and it really won't be more clear until iOS 8 is released in the fall on the for-now-secret devices Apple will introduce then.

Craig Federighi, Apple's head of software engineering, introduced Health, an application for monitoring personal health metrics that a user is interested in—calories burned, his or her weight, sleep patterns, etc.—and HealthKit, which is the bigger news.

HealthKit can collect information from various sources—such as a user's Fitbit account, a Nike running app and a blood-pressure reader—and present it together as a single, more complete health profile. But more importantly, it can communicate with third-party apps, such as the Mayo Clinic app.

Federighi explained, "With [the Mayo Clinic's] integration with HealthKit, they're going to be able, say when a patient takes a blood-pressure reading, HealthKit automatically notifies their app, and their app is automatically able to check whether that reading is within that patient's personalized care parameters and threshold, and if not, it can contact the hospital proactively, notify a doctor, and that doctor can reach back to that patient, providing more timely care."

Further, and in a surprising display of openness for a company that prides itself on doing everything, and in its own way, Apple intends to use HealthKit as an interface through which it will work with a host of existing health care applications.

"We're also working with leaders in health care applications like Epic Systems," said Federighi. "They provide the technology that enables hospitals serving over 100 million Americans. Now with their integration with HealthKit, patients at [a number of] leading institutions will be able to get closer in sharing their information with their doctors."

Gartner Research Director Angela McIntyre calls HealthKit "empowering" to consumers, as it will give them a "different level of insight into their health" and control of that insight through apps of their choosing.

She suggests a possible use-case scenario in which a clinician tasked with monitoring the health of a range of people, whether elderly patients or those with chronic conditions, could potentially have "a full dashboard of information that could enable them to prioritize who they talk and meet with first."

When asked whether HealthKit will "revolutionize" the way the health care industry interacts with people, as Apple and the Mayo Clinic assert, McIntyre cautiously offered that it's a "good step" toward enabling the integration of data with consumer apps so that they can be used by the health care profession.

The question depends so much, she added, on the quality of the data and whether it's good enough that a physician will feel comfortable using it. In Federighi's blood-pressure anecdote, for example, she said, "You would have to have an FDA-approved blood-pressure cuff ... all the involved devices will have to be high-quality, if they're wanting health care providers to really act on that information."

Will the 'iWatch' Be Apple's Health Care Device?

Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White told eWEEK, ahead of WWDC, that he'd be looking for clues in Apple's software announcements pointing to the type of hardware we can expect from Apple in the fall.

White already expects Apple to introduce two larger iPhones—specifically, 4.7- and a 5.5-inch iPhone 6 smartphones—as well as an "iWatch" that will be tied to health and fitness features.

In a June 2 research note, White pointed out that Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, backed up the idea that a new product category is coming when he said during the Re/code Code Conference May 28, "Later this year, we've got the best product pipeline that I've seen at Apple in my 25 years at Apple."

Jan Dawson, principal analyst with Jackdaw Research, said he continues to be "skeptical" that an iWatch is imminent. "But, of course, HealthKit would be a great repository for data generated by such a device, were Apple to launch it," Dawson wrote in a blog post following the keynote.

He added, "HealthKit will be necessary for anyone wanting to combine data from such a device with health data from more specialized devices Apple is never going to make. And that's perhaps why HealthKit makes so much sense."

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