Is this the future of (low-cost) healthcare?

A Zipnostic pilot program in New York hints at how Apple tech could transform healthcare.

Apple, iOS, iPhone, digital health, Health, iPad, Zipnostic

Zipnostic is running a pilot program in New York that shows how Apple could revolutionize healthcare – all it takes is smarter sensors.

First-line response

The vision for digital health is one in which smart machines work with data from smart sensors to deliver improvements in diagnosis, enabling patients (and medical professionals) with better information about new and existing conditions.

At present, patients in need of attention are destined to wait for hours in busy treatment centers to get attention from hard-pressed doctors.

In the U.S., patients are charged for such care, and the cost of time in the ER is high.

Zipnostic is exploring how to deliver real-time emergency health support in a lower-cost format that doesn’t require patients leave their homes.

It has launched a pilot (fee-based) scheme in the Upper West Side, Hudson Yards, Hell’s Kitchen, and Chelsea neighborhoods of Manhattan. 

How does Zipnostic work?

It works like this: A patient can use the Zipnostic app, share their symptoms and book a home visit — even within an hour — at any time of day (the service runs 24/7).

The thing is, the home visit isn’t by a doctor but an onsite "care coordinator" equipped with a full set of professional testing equipment and direct video contact with the doctor.

The coordinator runs through tests using a high-resolution camera, ultrasound, EKG, glucometer, blood pressure, oximeter, and other state-of-the-art equipment, all of which is controlled using Zipnostic’s own apps.

Test data is made available to the real doctor at the end of the camera, who can take control of the testing procedure and provide an on-the-spot medical diagnosis based on real data. 

The idea is that a diagnosis can be provided at around a fifteenth of the cost of a visit to the ER, and that the data driving the diagnosis can be much more accurate than you get from, say, a video chat using an app.

Digital health is coming of age

Now, I remain to be convinced that digital technologies can yet provide the same level of care you get from a visit from a real human doctor.

I think they will become so, but it’s going to take extensive real-world testing to make it so – and that’s what Zipnostic is doing, I guess.

I also don’t believe anyone who is unwell relishes spending hours in crowded waiting rooms, surrounded by other upset people suffering various problems. Such places are stressful, upsetting and — worst of all — expensive (in the U.S., though not yet for UK residents, thanks to the wonderful National Health Service).

I’m also a little doubtful that accurate medical data is more likely to be found when you test patients in places where they feel safe.

What’s critical about Zipnostic's approach is its flexibility.

Sure, it’s cheaper to deliver this kind of remote healthcare, but this economy also opens up new possibilities.

The biggest hope I see is for remote and hard-to-reach communities. These exist in the U.S., Canada, across island and desert nations, all across the planet.

These are the communities now able to develop infrastructure thanks to the provision of mobile networks. Now they can be enabled with access to professional healthcare — all it takes is a kit like that from Zipnostic and training for one or two persons from within these communities.

In a sense, the financial award available to firms offering such solutions is far less important than the opportunity to meet real human need.

Tim Cook’s long game

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been stressing two main pillars across the last 24 months.

The first pillar is that augmented reality (AR) can deliver profound changes. The second has to be the promise that in the future, Apple’s greatest contribution to the world will be seen as being “healthcare.”

(He actually said, “I do think there will be a day when people looking back will say Apple’s greatest contribution to the world was healthcare.”)

So, not the iMac, not the iPhone, not the iPod, not Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, but healthcare. Which rather implies we’ve seen little of Apple’s plans for digital health so far.

This leads me to imagine that Zipnostic’s highly interesting exploration of the remote health monitoring and diagnosis space hints at the potential opportunity Apple wants to address.

Think what a case full of Apple-designed (and non-Apple), extraordinarily high-end remotely connected medical testing devices and sensor-based onsite care systems might provide, particularly if it is tied up with Apple's Health records systems.

Tim Cook: “When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma, first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement [from an insurance provider]. Not thinking about what helps the patient. So, if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.”

I’ll be watching Zipnostic’s adventures with a great deal of interest.

I think they hint at part of the future of (low-cost) healthcare.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to pray never to get ill. Like so many millions of others, I can’t afford to be.

Perhaps these solutions can help us.

We shall see…

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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