Apple strides into healthcare

Health monitoring and tracking features designed to act as coach
By Anthony Brino
04:46 PM
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Apple Watch

Apple is out with its latest, much-anticipated products, and taking a step into healthcare with a new iPhone-enabled watch. Will this be a big step forward for digital health, or just a grab of the high-end quantified-self market?

Those questions are bound to linger among the digital health community, as the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch make their way to consumers.

Already, Apple’s new watch and iPhone features may have some existing mobile healthcare companies worried.

The watch requires an iPhone as its wireless foundation, but aside from that it seems poised to offer an integrated health monitoring and tracking experience — with heart rate monitoring, step and elevation counting, calorie burning — along with all the other maps, music, social media and Internet browsing expected of a traditional smartphone.

“Apple Watch is the most personal device ever created,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said, predicting it “will redefine what people expect from a watch,”

Apple Watch comes with its own Fitness and Workout apps, which are bound to challenge other existing exercise apps, but the it will still accommodate third party apps — while collecting more data than existing wearables, company claims.

“Apple Watch is designed to help anyone who wears it lead a healthier life by being more active,” Jay Blahnik, Apple’s director of fitness and health technologies, an exercise consultant who worked on Nike’s digital health products, says in an online ad. The Watch “brings together the capabilities of an all day fitness tracker and a highly advanced sports watch in one device you can wear all the time,” he says.

The watch’s tracking also has self-personalization functions — “it gets to know you,” Blahnik promises. “It’s designed to deliver intelligent reminders to keep you motivated and on track, and it can suggest goals that are personal, realistic and most important achievable.”

The watch starts at $349, and will with work both new iPhones and the iPhone 5, 5c and 5s.

One way to gauge Apple's digital health will impact the watch's traction with consumers, and whether it is used and helps people who need to get more activity and eat healthier.

Another way will be to see how far Apple goes on the clinical side.

Apple has forged a partnership with EHR maker Epic for an app Epic named Haiku, which gives doctors access to patient records, and a partnership with IBM.

That begs the question: How long before doctors can Watson via Siri? 

"We’re piloting that with Memorial Sloan Kettering (and) MD Anderson and have other pilots underway," as Dan Pelino, the general manager of IBM’s global public sector unit, said recently. "It is in the upper wide-right quadrant of complexity and value, and we believe that over time it will become part of normal practices followed by the majority of physicians and clinicians. It will also follow with a level of commitment to consistency on practice patterns and best practices and changing processes to be able to get better outcomes sooner."