Can Apple do more to transform the health industry?

Apple CEO Tim Cook often says his company’s greatest contribution to humankind “will be in the health area.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook frequently makes the claim that his company’s greatest contribution to humankind “will be in the health area.”

And it's taking a number of steps to make that effort a reality.

When will becomes when

Cook likes to point to the ECG function in Apple Watch, the company’s health-related research tools and its software based solutions. (The latter include things like the Health app, Activity Monitor, Cycle Tracking, medical apps and advanced sensor designs.)

All these tools are useful, but are they really a great contribution to humanity when such a small percentage of the people on the planet can access them?

Apple’s business tends to be built around its core skill at inventing products around advanced technology, which it can market to its key audience of premium consumers.

And where becomes what

It’s difficult to enumerate Apple’s current health solutions – and the way Cook so often frames his claim around the future – without thinking the iPhone company (which doesn’t want to be remembered as an iPhone company) is working on something more profound.

“Health is a huge issue around the world and we think it’s ripe for simplicity and a new view,” Cook said in 2016.

Now, years later, the company continues to incrementally introduce software solutions that make it easier for people to look after their own health. The recently-introduced ECG features in Apple Watch are a good example.

However, while Apple is presently focused on tools that let its customers monitor and manage their health, it will surely find other ways to disrupt healthcare in a more impactful manner in the future.

Augmented everything

Apple has already taken a huge step in that direction with its Health Records app, which enables its customers to take control of their own health data.

But the company could leverage all of its existing technologies to deliver new health solutions. Think about how its tech could become part of emerging solutions:

  1. 3D printing: One of the big tech events of 2019 was when doctors in Tel Aviv were able to 3D print a small human heart using a patient’s own cells. While this wasn’t a functioning organ, it was a breakout moment in tech. Organs as a service cannot be far behind.
  2. Augmented reality: Systems doctors use to help prepare for complex surgeries already exist and are in use at medical training facilities, including 24 run by Johnson & Johnson.
  3. Remote patient monitoring: Connected solutions such as glucose meters, ECGs or blood pressure monitors already exist and these are enabling patients to live more independent lives rather than being stuck inside hospitals.
  4. Cloud-based healthcare and privacy: Apple is attempting to develop cloud-based machine intelligence systems that solve real problems while maintaining user privacy. It’s not hard to see how such systems could add more layers of insight and protection into remote patient monitoring.
  5. Machine vision intelligence: Solutions such as Gauss Surgical’s Triton app for monitoring blood loss in operating procedures and the Ibex Second Read system, which detects breast cancer, are already in use.

Apple's technologies feed into all of these solutions, from its approach to on-device (private) machine intelligence to augmented reality to remote sensor-based condition monitoring.

The doctor you have with you

Speaking in 2013, Ovum’s then-lead healthcare & life sciences analyst, Charlotte Davies, told me her predictions for digital health:

“More and more care will be delivered outside hospitals and clinics… mobile devices – from smartphones to monitoring devices – will become increasingly important as the number of patients cared for at home or in sheltered accommodation or other community centers increases,” she said.

Time shows the accuracy of this prediction – but we are already able to predict something else:

More and more treatment will be delivered remotely, with mobile devices becoming critical to such care – AR, remote patient monitoring and automation will make it possible to perform minor surgeries, for example – as in the 5G-based remote operation performed by a doctor this year.

Perhaps these are the kinds of long-term implementations Cook has in mind when he promises Apple will be remembered for its contribution to health.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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