Apple Hints At A Push Into Healthcare -- Let's All Hope That Happens

The United States’ health care system is extremely complex, but many doctors and experts believe it’s also inherently broken.

Hospitals are routinely criticised for overcharging patients, while the drug and insurance companies continue to rake in mammoth profits. Meanwhile, individuals with lower income often lack sufficient access to proper health care.

Doctors and patients alike are unhappy with the current health care system, and a big part of that has to do with efficiency. In a Commonwealth Fund report published in June, the US ranked worst among 11 industrialized countries, particularly with regards to “efficiency, equity, and overall health of its citizens,” as CBS News points out. The US also spent more money on health care compared to the other 10 countries.

“The nation’s substantial investment in health care is not yielding returns in terms of public satisfaction or health outcomes,” the authors of the report said.

Congress has so far proved unhelpful with creating any meaningful change, but perhaps technology can cure some of our health care system’s inefficiencies.

Fitness wristbands are starting to gain traction with customers, but many believe Apple will be the first company to truly popularise health-oriented devices by making it easy for patients and their doctors to measure and track health data — while also offering a unique and stylish device.

Apple is reportedly hard at work on its upcoming wearable device, presumably called “iWatch” or “iBand,” which is said to measure health-related biometrics like heart rate and sleep quality, while also giving wearers the ability to control notifications and aspects of the smartphone experience right on their wrists.

While that device waits in the wings, Apple has been busy striking partnerships with health institutions, hospitals, and health insurance companies around the U.S. to help develop and distribute its HealthKit software, announced in June, which will reportedly be a major part of the iWatch experience.

HealthKit, as Apple describes it, “allows apps that provide health and fitness services to share their data with the new Health app and with each other.” The user can decide how much of their health-related information they want to share with third-parties.

But HealthKit isn’t just for Apple devices; Apple announced an application programming interface (API) for HealthKit earlier this summer, which means medical companies that build equipment like heart rate or blood pressure monitors can hook their tools into this all-inclusive platform as well. The Mayo Clinic, which serves over 1.1 million patients each year, has already signed on to be an early partner in Apple’s fledgling health initiative, among others (pictured below).

Apple healthkit partnersAppleThese are all of the hospitals and medical organisations currently partnering with Apple on HealthKit.

By teaming up with hospitals, Apple stands to benefit patients as well as medical practitioners, since doctors would theoretically be able to collect health data from their patients in between visits, which would lead to more accurate diagnoses and more efficient health care. A universal Apple app could also potentially facilitate doctor’s appointments and even prevent them entirely, if patients learn that their symptoms do not merit an actual visit to a physician or hospital.

Obviously, the HealthKit platform and the iWatch won’t be the end-all solutions to the complicated and endemic problems that plague the U.S. health care system. But Apple, perhaps more so than any other company in America, is uniquely positioned to take on these issues.

When Apple does something — anything — people listen. And if Apple can make it popular to care for one’s own health, other tech companies will surely jump on that bandwagon, as they always do. (Riding Apple’s coattails is usually a safe financial bet.)

But aping Apple in this way would be a good thing: Tech companies can’t prescribe medicine or conduct surgeries, but if they can collect and measure users’ biometric data, they can offer preventative care — useful, personalised advice to heed before an issue becomes an emergency.

If people become more mindful about their own health statuses — and more importantly, know what to do about it — we might see emergencies decrease, as well as the number of doctor and hospital visits in general. That saves hospitals and ambulances a lot of money, and people get to save themselves from costly medical bills.

With fewer patients to address, doctors and hospitals could also spend more time on cases that truly need their attention, while those who saved themselves a hospital visit thanks to their health app can spend more time being productive instead of sitting in a waiting room for hours.

Tech companies likely won’t change the foundational problems ailing the health care industry, such as the exorbitant cost of medical bills. But devices and services, like the ones Apple is purportedly working on, could help us avoid those bills completely.

Apple has never come out and said it wants to fix health care, but the proof is in the pudding.

Amidst news of Apple partnering up with hospitals and health organisations, CEO Tim Cook stopped by the VA Palo Alto Health Care System on Thursday, which is somewhat symbolic of Apple’s intentions to address health care. Veterans health facilities have faced intense scrutiny since May, when 40-plus military veterans died while waiting for care, which exposed deep-rooted problems within the health care system.

Cook obviously cares a great deal about health care personally. He’s a noted fitness nut, and according to The Wall Street Journal, Cook once participated in a two-day cycling event across Georgia to raise money for multiple sclerosis, a disease that changed his life years prior when he was accidentally misdiagnosed with the condition.

(Cook also donated $US50 million of his own money to Stanford hospitals in early 2012 — $US25 million to build a new main building, and $US25 million to build a new children’s hospital.)

Apple may not be able to effect the political changes the U.S. health care system needs, but the company’s forthcoming health-related technologies could help further expose the remaining inefficiencies and barriers that stand between doctors and those that need care.

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