Apple to pitch HealthKit as a diagnosis tool

Scores of healthcare experts hired by Apple are building improved electronic health record software that can better analyse and understand implications of patient data


Apple Inc. chief executive Tim Cook wants the company to do more in software and services to secure new sources of revenue. Photo: Bloomberg
Apple Inc. chief executive Tim Cook wants the company to do more in software and services to secure new sources of revenue. Photo: Bloomberg

San Francisco: So far, Apple Inc.’s HealthKit has mostly collected fitness data from its devices. In the future, if the company gets its way, the software will interpret that information, turning it into advice for users, doctors and others.

Scores of healthcare experts hired by Apple are building improved electronic health record software that can better analyse and understand the implications of patient data, according to people familiar with the team’s plans.

The iPhone maker is also working on new apps for the Apple Watch. One helps users track sleep patterns, one of the people said. Another app gauges fitness levels by measuring the time taken for the heart rate to fall from its peak to resting level, according to one of the other people. Apple already has an app that measures heart rate, but doesn’t interpret that data.

The ultimate goal of Apple’s medical technology team is to turn HealthKit into a tool that improves diagnoses, the people said. The system could chip away at two problems that plague the industry and have stumped other specialist firms in the field: interoperability—allowing data to be transferred from hospital to hospital across different databases; and analysis—making it quick and easy for physicians to extrapolate salient information from mountains of data.

CEO Tim Cook wants Apple to do more in software and services to secure new sources of revenue and make customers more dependent on the firm’s devices.

“If you drive for a while and your car gets too hot, it says pull over. If you need an oil change, it says check your oil. What’s the equivalent for the body?” Cook said at a May conference.

Earlier this year, Apple bought Gliimpse Inc., a start-up that built software to pull electronic health records from different databases and in different formats, then store them in one place.

“I will be working on building a platform, a set of application program interfaces, and a simple product that will bring what we believe will be a disruptive consumer health-care application to the US for the first time,” Apple Health senior engineer Mohan Randhava wrote on his LinkedIn profile, which states he was employed at Gliimpse until February.

He likened the product to Apple’s music business. That started with the iPod, but as people became accustomed to storing all their music files digitally, Apple built a lucrative music platform on top of the device.

Apple health software could become a revenue driver, too, by keeping people wedded to the company’s devices. If a patient’s health records, and related suggestions, are accessible through Apple’s system, it would be harder to trade in an iPhone for a smartphone running Google’s Android operating system, and its health-tracking software Google Fit. The second version of Apple’s Watch has a faster processor, a built-in GPS tracker and is water resistant so people can run, swim and do other exercise with the device. The updated Watch software, dubbed watchOS 3, places health tracking information more prominently in the user interface, and adds a breathing exercise app as well as swim tracking. Adding new medical sensors would also likely require the Food and Drug Administration’s nod.

It’s unclear how soon improvements to Apple’s HealthKit may be introduced. ResearchKit, another Apple software, lets research institutions and drugmakers conduct clinical trials using iPhone apps, and some of the trials hint at possible future applications for HealthKit. Each clinical study using ResearchKit brings Apple a step closer to embedding itself in hospitals, labs and doctors’ surgeries.

Apple’s greatest hurdle for now is proving to medical professionals that data delivered from wearables through HealthKit and ResearchKit is reliable. Bloomberg

READ MORE