Apple wants to hire a high-level lawyer who specialises in health privacy regulations, the latest sign of the iPhone maker’s growing ambitions in the healthcare market.
In a job posting on Monday, Apple seeks a “privacy counsel” focused on “HIPAA, Health” who can work with the company’s engineering teams as well as advise on privacy aspects of acquisitions.
HIPAA is a set of U.S. laws that govern how health information is stored and transferred, and is something every medical technology company that deals with private patient information must take into account.
HIPAA compliance is difficult, and Apple has until now pushed most of the responsibility to third-party app developers, even as it’s released health-focused software. But the listing for a HIPPA specialist indicates that Apple might be looking to expand further into medical technology in a way that means its handling sensitive medical data.
Privacy by design
According to the listing, Apple is looking to fill a senior position. It wants someone with 5-9 years experience “at a top-tier law firm or business” along with outstanding academic credentials and health privacy expertise as well as professional certifications related to information privacy.
The person hired for the job will work on “privacy by design reviews and projects,” will assist with “privacy complaints and breaches,” and will “advise on the privacy aspects of licensing and procurement deals and corporate acquisitions.”
Apple’s products increasingly overlap into the health area. Its year-old Apple Watch is capable of monitoring a user’s heart rate and other physical traits.
Earlier this year, Apple introduced CareKit, which allows developers to build apps for iPhones and Apple Watches that can monitor biometric data and communicate with doctors. But Apple has been clear that its latest software doesn’t trigger federal medical regulation, although CareKit developers might choose to use the tools to build apps that would be regulated.
Whether Apple is a “covered entity” under HIPAA — meaning that it must be classified as a medical provider — has been the subject of considerable debate among healthcare professionals. Apple does not currently provide a HIPAA-compliant “backend” database for CareKit developers.
Apple did not immediately return requests for comment.
The next frontier: Medicine
The possibility that Apple might push into medicine has certainly energised digital health professionals, who are excited about what Apple might do next.
Right now, Apple is working on “care delivery and coordination,” Ahmed Albaiti, CEO of digital health consultancy Medullan, told Business Insider. Eventually, he believes Apple is working up to supporting apps that might diagnose a condition or apply therapeutics.
“In the development of digital health you’ve got your ResearchKit, you’ve got your CareKit which has the basics and the fundamentals of a winning formula, and the real coup de grace is yet to come,” Albaiti said.
“How much money do you want to put down on a ‘MedicalKit’?” he joked.
“Apple has done so much in the healthcare space compared to the other platforms. They have totally thought of it from a data and security and privacy standpoint and also thought about it from a regulatory standpoint and an ecosystem-building standpoint,” Julia Hu, CEO of health app Lark, told Business Insider. “I’m excited that HealthKit is more healthcare based.”
Blogger Neil Cybart recently wrote that Apple is on track to spend more than $10 billion on research and development this year. It’s safe to say that a good proportion of that R&D money is going to Apple’s scores of medical professionals and its research labs staffed with certified nurses.
The holy grail
The HIPAA counsel job listing was posted a day before Apple CEO Tim Cook made some of the most revealing comments yet about Apple’s health ambitions at a conference in Amsterdam.
“If you look at some of the things that do not drive revenue, but have massive interest in them from our teams, health is very much one of those,” Cook said. “We’ve done some things with the Apple Watch to encourage activity, but we’ve also gotten interested in research, and launched ResearchKit.”
“We believe that health is something that is a huge problem in the world, and we think it is ripe for simplicity and a new view, and we’d like to contribute to that,” Cook added.
Ultimately, he offered a view of the Apple Watch as a less of a smartwatch and more of a sensor-packed medical device.
“One day, this is my prediction, we will look back and we will wonder: how can I ever have gone without the Watch? Because the holy grail of the watch is being able to monitor more and more of what’s going on in the body,” Cook said.