Welcome to Digital Health Briefing, a new morning newsletter providing the latest news, data, and insight on how digital technology is disrupting the healthcare ecosystem, produced by BI Intelligence.
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APPLE LAUNCHES INTERNAL HEALTH CLINICS: Apple is launching the AC Wellness Network, a group of internal health clinics, to provide its employees and their families with healthcare services, according to CNBC. The AC Wellness Network will exist independently from Apple, with two clinics opening sometime in spring. Current job listings for AC Wellness suggest that the network will offer primary care services, access to health and exercise coaches, and on-site lab tests.
Why is this important?
Apple will leverage the medical clinics to test and strengthen its health services and products. The company has been ramping up the volume of healthcare-related offerings over the past six months. For example:
- In November 2017, Apple launchedthe Apple Heart study in conjunction with Stanford Medicine and telehealth company American Well. The study aimed to demonstrate how the Apple Watch could be used as a screening tool for Atrial Fibrillation (AFib). In February 2018, Apple used consumer data collected from the Apple Heart study to seek FDA approval for a new health “investigational device.”
- Towards the tail end of January 2018, an update to iOS 11 included a beta version of its Health app that allows some iPhone users in the US to store and share their medical records on their devices. So far, 12 hospitals and clinics have partnered with Apple for the pilot, including John Hopkins Medicine, Cedars-Sinai, and Penn Medicine.
During Apple’s Q1 2018 earnings call, CEO Tim Cook told shareholders that the company can make a “significant contribution” to healthcare, hinting that the firm would move beyond wellness apps and devices to do so. The AC Wellness Network could be a precursor to Apple introducing more healthcare-specific services, not only for its employees but also potentially a broader range of consumers.
Tech companies have stepped up their pursuit to capture a piece of the healthcare industry, which could threaten traditional healthcare firms.
In a similar vein to Apple offering employees healthcare services, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase, recently partnered to form an independent healthcare company to improve employee satisfaction by providing high-quality, transparent care at a reasonable cost. The development of these types of healthcare solutions is giving non-traditional healthcare companies an avenue to eventually cut out traditional players, such as insurance companies, clinics, and health specialists.
FITBIT MISSES EARNINGS AMID SMARTWATCH STRUGGLES: Shipments of Fitbit devices fell 17% year-over-year (YoY) during Q4 2017, marking the fifth consecutive quarter of YoY decline, according to the wearable makers’ Q4 earnings report. The continued decline comes despite the launch of Fitbit’s new smartwatch, which aimed to bring the company’s offerings more in line with consumer demand for smartwatch functionality over designated fitness trackers. Nevertheless, Fitbit’s executives remained optimistic, highlighting several digital health-focused projects that could help the company see a turnaround in the mid- to long-term. For example, the company acquired health data platform Twine Health in February, which could lead to future collaborations between Fitbit and healthcare networks. Fitbit’s troves of health data are also becoming increasingly valuable to payers, research institutions, and hospital networks, looking to glean consumer health insights. Lastly, although device shipments fell YoY, Fitbit’s community of active users rose 9% YoY during Q4 2017, from 23 million to more than 25 million users. If the company is able to leverage these users and continue to develop its health ecosystem, it could hold out against Apple’s increasing dominance.
SAMSUNG, UCSF PARTNER FOR STRESS MANAGEMENT STUDY: Samsung and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) have announced the launch of a new health app that will help users monitor and manage their stress levels. The app, called My BP Lab, will use a new optical sensor in Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones to measure users’ blood pressure and provide accurate information about their health status, without needing additional hardware. This information will also help researchers collect personalised, on-demand health data. Users can opt into a three-week UCFS research study to track their stress levels and how it’s affected throughout the day. Participants will also provide other behavioural information such as how much sleep they get and their activity levels, which will give researchers a more robust picture of users’ health behaviour. The partnership is just the latest instance of a leading smartphone maker leveraging its ubiquity to collect user health data that provides researchers with valuable real-world demonstrations of health behaviour. Apple recently launched a beta pilot update to its Health app to allow some iPhone users to collect and share their electronic health records with select providers, payers, and family.
TELADOC GETS CERTIFIED AS A TRUSTED PARTNER BY SURESCRIPTS: Telemedicine company Teladoc has been certified as a trusted partner of Surescripts, a health information network. The certification will enable Teladoc to expand its e-prescribing relationship with Surescripts, giving Teladoc physicians real-time access to current and past medications that have been prescribed to their patients. Physicians will also have access to prescription benefits information, such as potential out-of-pocket costs and a list of therapeutic alternatives, at the time of consultation. Real-time access to medication history and pricing will help physicians reduce the risk of adverse drug interactions and lower prescription costs for patients, which could drive up medication adherence. With medication adherence still being a major issue in the healthcare industry, it’s likely that tools that help providers drive adherence will only become more popular – lack of medication adherence leads to $US317 billion in annual healthcare costs, according to data from the American Journal of Managed Care cited by FierceHealthcare. This is the second major partnership inked by Surescripts in the past week after Cerner announced it would integrate Surescripts’ service into its Millennium offering.
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