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Friday, January 17, 2020

An Apple for Your Health

Tech titan Apple is using its ecosystem to drive multiple projects affecting personal health care now and into the future.

If you ask me what Apple’s greatest contribution to humankind was, it is in the health care arena.
Tim Cook, Apple CEO speaking to Japan’s Nikkei news service in December 2019:

If you thought the Apple Watch was the company’s major foray into the health care space, you’d have underestimated its reach and drive. Yes, the smartwatch is continuing to make inroads, particularly in the over-65 category. In 2019, Apple partnered with Medicare Advantage insurer Devoted Health to subsidize the cost of the device for its 4,000 members. While that number may seem small, it spurred “several” other Medicare Advantage plan carriers to consider the benefit. Consider that the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the Medicare Advantage market was 20 million in 2018, and expected to rise. Apple has its eye on the health care market, with a basket of initiatives underway that bank on the company’s reputation for privacy and ability to merge software and hardware.

When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma, first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement [from an insurance provider]. Not thinking about what helps the patient. So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.
- Tim Cook, Apple CEO

Google Enters Medicare Advantage 

Apple isn’t the only tech giant to compete in the health care space. Not only did Google parent Alphabet recently acquire fitness tracker business Fitbit, but the company is making a $375 million bet of its own on private Medicare with a stake in Oscar Health. Currently an actor in the individual insurance business under the Affordable Care Act, Oscar will use the financial infusion to jumpstart its entry into Medicare Advantage, which has a projected user base of 38 million by the end of 2025, or half of Medicare enrollees.

Apple’s integration of health care into its wearables, services and app are fairly well known, at least by owners of iOS (the company’s operating system) products. The Health app comes installed on new phones and tracks number of steps and flights of stairs on a calendar, easy metrics to entice regular use. It is also an entry point for the second page, which follows various health metrics such as sleep, nutrition and mindfulness, suggesting apps that can monitor each and provide results. Users are even directed to apps that can monitor glucose levels and inhaler usage. Consumers are able to download, aggregate, view and share this information with more than 120 health care institutions, and Apple is working with startup Health Gorilla to enable doctors to order and quantify lab test data.


Back in 2015, Apple began offering ResearchKit to help medical researchers conduct studies with the iPhone. Instead of having to locate participants and entice them with payments, researchers could recruit by asking users to opt in, creating larger groups from geographically diverse areas. The Apple Heart Study, for example, has enrolled more than 400,000 participants from across the U.S. in a single year. The only apparent downside is that iPhone users tend to be more affluent than the population at large.

For scientists, ResearchKit offers customizable templates for introducing a study, clarifying who is eligible, and obtaining consent and access to data. Participants can see exactly what the study entails via videos, simple consent forms and quizzes. In addition, enrollees can choose to donate their data for future research. More than 75% on app mPower do, allowing open sourcing. Currently, researchers are involved in the Apple Hearing Health Study, the Apple Heart and Movement Study, and Apple Women’s Health Study, among others.

Participants don’t have to travel to a clinic to submit data, but instead use sensors in the iPhone (or connect it to the Apple Watch, an inhaler, etc.) to give frequent readouts. It is even possible to record data during a seizure or asthma attack, and information such as where it occurred (in a park, for example) can be factored in. Facial recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) are pairing for early autism detection and other tests. Audio transmissions are another area of innovation in speech health, and assist in speech to text translation.


Launched in 2016, CareKit lets institutions and people develop apps to monitor patients in real time by using sensors and tools available in the iPhone. Hospitals can check remotely on discharged patients. The progression of chronic diseases can be monitored and managed. CareKit provides one source that a variety of caregivers (doctors, physicians, etc.) can use. It is also open source, with several startups (Glow, Iodine, One Drop and others) piggybacking on the platform. And the app simplifies outsourcing, allowing hospitals to bundle services such as transportation around a single event or disease.

Apple’s Edge

The Apple user base, more than 85.5 million iPhone owners over the age of 13 in 2016, is powerful, and the company has direct access to each user. Apple also has leverage with players in the health care space. The company can act as an intermediary with startups using the Apple platform and other, more established entities. As health care becomes more proactive, people look to trusted brands with name recognition for storing their health documents. Although a lot of work remains, Apple has begun enlisting partners to create a data system that will allow users to collect information on a universal basis while sharing it selectively.

Click below for the other articles in the January 2020 Senior Spirit

Health – Should You Start Medicare If You Work Past 65?


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

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