Apple quietly has been strategizing to expand its growing healthcare business to include the management of digital health records, with the iPhone operating as a central data hub, CNBC reported last week.
Apple has been in talks with numerous health industry groups that are involved in setting standards for the storage and sharing of electronic medical records, in a way that would help consumers gain more control over their private medical information, according to the network.
The plan appears to be a natural extension of Apple’s recent health industry strategy, which includes its Research Kit, CareKit and HealthKit — platforms that allow developers to create apps that help patients, hospitals and researchers find new ways to collect, manage and deliver health data efficiently and directly.
“This has been an interest point as part of Apple’s strategy in the healthcare vertical for some time,” said Daniel Ruppar, digital health global program director at Frost & Sullivan.
Apple last year acquired Gliimpse, a medical records startup that helped collect data from different platforms and organized the information for patients.
Thus far, Apple’s efforts largely have focused on fitness information, but in recent years it has moved into more focused healthcare delivery. For example, the company recently began work on developing sensors that could help diabetic patients manage blood glucose levels.
“They’ve shown on a number of fronts they’ve been tackling health and well being,” said Ian Fogg, senior director, mobile and telecoms at IHS Markit.
The challenge for Apple going forward is that it tends to attack new businesses on a global scale, and healthcare data requires dealing with a myriad of regulatory and privacy issues that cannot easily be synchronized across a single platform, Fogg told TechNewsWorld.
Also, the sensitivity of personal health data demands a high level of security and transparency, so that hospitals and patients can feel comfortable allowing that type of information to be controlled by an outside party, he said.
“I would hope that Apple is planning to use the iPhone to securely communicate personal medical information from sensor to a HIPAA-compliant cloud service, and that medical records are only permanently retained in the cloud service,” said Paul Teich, principal analyst at Tirias Research.
While temporary secure viewing on an iPhone would be nice, it would be better to have another layer of device security sitting between the attacker and the EMR repository, he told TechNewsWorld.
It’s questionable that health information ever will become a big driver of device sales “unless medical systems or insurance companies are going to get into the iPhone distribution game,” Teich said.
The real revenue driver for Apple would be to use a secure back-end EMR cloud service to sell Apple gear to medical institutions, he suggested.
“Protected healthcare information is valuable data,” observed Ed Cabrera, chief cybersecurity officer at Trend Micro.
“Arguably, any time you transition this type of data into another platform, there’s an inherent risk associated with it,” he told TechNewsWorld. “However, Apple has a history of developing security and privacy into their products that leads to better overall protection for their users.”
With a healthcare records system on board, Apple likely would see a slight shift in how iPhones were sold and a slight uptake in the medical industry as companies started promoting the iPhone as a tool for doctors, said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for worldwide mobile device trackers at IDC.
However, it wouldn’t be a game changer for iPhone sales, he said.
“Rather, this would further solidify Apple’s stance as a leader in privacy and security, and would put pressure on Android as a whole, as well as Samsung, to step up their game,” Ubrani told TechNewsWorld.
Rival tech companies have made efforts to capture medical data for research, consumer applications and other business opportunities.
Verily Life Sciences, a unit of Google parent Alphabet, this spring partnered with Duke University School of Medicine and Stanford Medicine to launch Project Baseline, a project to collect broad, phenotypic health data from 10,000 volunteers.
After screening it to ensure the privacy of volunteer participants, the data will be hosted on Google Cloud Platform and available for researchers to gain a better understanding of disease risk factors and other information.
Nokia recently acquired Paris-based Withings, a digital health company that sells smart health products like digital scales, smartwatches and thermometers, and tracks activities as well. Nokia launched a digital health unit led by former Withings CEO Cedric Hutchings.