Analysts predict that Apple’s market opportunity in healthcare could reach as high as $313 billion in just a few years. Even the more conservative estimate of $15 billion is quite an eye-popper when you consider that Mayo Clinic’s 2018 revenue, for example, was $12 billion. (Bloomberg) (Mayo Clinic)

Apple is building a new ecosystem in the healthcare industry. Based on its investments, we can comfortably say that Apple is here to stay. Here are a few notes we’ve made recently.

 

1. CONSUMER-FACING HEALTH RECORDS ARE STARTING TO GEL

Last year, Apple added a new feature to incorporate medical records into its Health app. Patients can download, share, and store data from their medical records, including lab tests, medications, allergies, and more.

What’s significant about the feature is that it allows patients to aggregate piecemeal data from all their providers in one place. Well over 100 health systems and provider groups have connected to the app so far, including some familiar names like Cleveland Clinic and Geisinger. (The growing list of providers is here.)

But Apple has opened the door even wider, expanding beyond doctors and hospitals. In recent weeks, Allscripts announced plans to connect a number of its EHR platforms to the app, representing thousands of user organizations. That puts a lot of records into the hands of a lot of patients.

The Health app uses the popular Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard for data transfer and an Application Programming Interface (API) that allows developers to create a portfolio of apps that connect and exchange information — with the patient’s permission, of course. The customary passcodes, facial recognition, and fingerprint sensors that everyone already uses to access their phones and watches will likewise protect the information individual consumers keep in their health record apps.

We’ve also noted that UC San Francisco and Cornell Tech are starting to work on an open-source platform for Android smartphones that would rival Apple’s health-record features. CommonHealth will also use FHIR standards, and developers will have API access. (CommonHealth)

Our Take: Apps that put information in the hands of consumers conveniently and within their everyday flow of life make tons of sense. They’ll be a nice improvement over current methods that require consumers to log into multiple provider sites and manually stitch together all their specifics.

[Related reading: MyHealthEData Puts Consumers at Center of Healthcare Conversation]

 

2. APPLE DEVICES ARE CROWDSOURCING PATIENT DATA FOR RESEARCH STUDIES

Academic institutions will soon start gathering data from willing patients with Apple’s forthcoming Research app. Women’s health, heart health as it relates to mobility, and hearing as it relates to everyday sound exposure are the three initial studies in this group.

Hitting on another health research trend, Apple is partnering with pharma manufacturer Eli Lilly to test ways to identify mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. The hope is that the research may eventually lead to early screening or detection tools for neurodegenerative conditions.

There’s no doubt that the company is building on the previous health research success that it found with Stanford Medicine in the Apple Heart Study. Researchers collected data from 400,000 patients — a substantial number for any health study — and Apple ultimately parlayed that research into the ECG app that warns consumers of possible atrial fibrillation. (Stanford)

Our Take: Drawing data from a large population is a researcher’s dream. More than 100 million people in the United States use iPhones, making the potential to recruit subjects pretty darn impressive. (Statista) Yet, the situation also offers incredible commercial value, and Apple will need to be crystal clear on what it’s doing with consumer health data.

 

3. PRIVACY AND SECURITY WILL TEMPER APPLE’S PACE

While the main selling point for Apple’s devices has been tight security and reliable performance, entering the healthcare space will really put that promise to the test. One breach could jeopardize personal health information for hundreds of thousands of patients — a lesson that some established healthcare organizations have already learned.

Google has recently taken some swipes at Apple, pointing out the vulnerabilities in iPhones. Malicious sites known as “watering holes” were able to tap into consumers’ iPhones to monitor their activities undetected and access their photos and messages, according to Google’s Project Zero. (CNBC) Apple responded by saying the sites were few, the risk was small, and the company fixed the issue in 10 days. (Apple)

Our Take: As we’ve said before, following HIPAA rules simply isn’t enough. Privacy and security are never-ending obstacles for even the best of the best. Apple will be held to an exceptionally high standard, not just because it’s Apple, but because consumers are hypersensitive about the protection of their health information.

[Related reading: Retailers Bet on Consumers’ Love of Convenience]