iPhone 6 and iWatch: Can Apple really revolutionize health ... and when?

iPhone 6 and iWatch: Can Apple really revolutionize health ... and when?

The writing is on the wall - Apple's getting into the health business. But how far is Apple going to push? And how far is this very fragmented industry going to let them?

While I take much of what's been written about iOS 8, the iPhone 6, and especially the iWatch with a grain of salt, one thing's clear: Apple's expended a fair amount of effort grabbing experts in medical and sensor fields this past year, meeting with federal regulators and more, so they're clearly up to something. Rather than speculating on what specific product they're working on, I'm more interested in whether Apple can revolutionize health the same way they've revolutionized other businesses.

In short, I think they have an uphill battle.

Lots of competition

Let's face it, anyone can introduce a smartwatch or even more so, a fitness bracelet – and as evidenced by this year's Consumer Electronics Show, just about everyone has. Collecting biometric data about workouts, activity and sleep patterns is old news. The Fitbit, FuelBand and Up are so last year.

That's why I'm not surprised by the rumor that iOS 8 will include a new Healthbook app that acts as a one-stop shop for all the biometric information gathered from your devices, whether it's an iPhone or "iWatch." It seems pretty obvious to me that Apple will consolidate as much of this under its own tent as it can.

The pieces are starting to come together. The iPhone 5s introduced the Apple M7, a component inside the device that collects sensor data from the phone to track physical activity. One of the first apps out of the gate to use it was Nike's Nike+ Move app, which can show you when you moved, wehre you moved, how you moved compared to previous days and weeks, and even offers a leaderboard so you can compare your exercise levels to your friends.

On the consumer end, Apple can certainly change things, reducing the fragmented landscape of fitness bands and other biometric data collection devices down to something with an Apple logo on it, something that confused customers might feel more comfortable buying and using than having to order other products from other vendors and download software for.

Apple recently met with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allegedly to discuss mobile health technology. No one outside of that meeting knows for sure what was discussed, but it's another data point to suggest that Apple's getting in the health market.

A messy landscape

Even if Apple is able to pack in more data about your personal health with information on blood pressure and blood sugar, let's say there's a huge difference between collecting that information and actually making it actionable intelligence for health care providers working with their patients.

It'll take a lot more than Apple's single-minded focus to fix what's wrong with medical data collection and usage in the United States. Just ask anyone who works in healthcare, especially if they're on the IT side of things.

The federal government's HIPAA law was supposed to make it easier for health care providers to exchange data electronically, but almost two decades after HIPAA was signed, the landscape of data integration between medical providers is a pockmarked wasteland. Based on my family's experience alone, there are still plenty of doctors out there who end up faxing or FedExing each other test results because there's no secure way of getting electronic medical data between health care providers.

It's a thoroughly balkanized landscape of incompatible technologies managed using defensive IT practices that are in place to reduce organizational and provider liability rather that provide transparency or ease of access for patients. It's a disaster, and I see nothing on the horizon to suggest that's going to change soon.

Apple does have an advantage with doctors shared by few other companies: Go into most doctor's offices today and you'll see iOS devices, either in their pockets or under their arms. Since their introduction in 2010 iPads have become a favorite for doctors.

Some forward-thinking health care providers enable doctors to collect or view data using those iPads as front ends for their Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems. But doctors who don't have access to such advantaged technology still find uses for the iPad, as a reference guide to check for drug interactions, for example, or to double-check medical reference information or to do some sort of Internet-based research.

End-to-end ecosystem

What Apple does bring to the table is integration. Whether it's an iWatch or a new iPhone with additional biometric capabilities, having an end-to-end system that's Apple-first and Apple-only means that millions of iOS device users will be able to take advantage of it right off the bat, without having to download new apps. That's certainly a huge advantage.

Apple could provide a much-needed clarity to the increasingly muddied waters of fitness devices and bands, but I expect it's going to take some time. Apple will introduce products and services that appeal to early adopters, but it won't be until the market has had a chance to mature before we see more widestream acceptance and an increased array of functionality.

Is that revolutionary? Not so much. Evolutionary? Certainly.

What do you think? Does the prospect of an iWatch or other Apple device that collects biometric data intrigue you? Let me know in the comments.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Peter Cohen

Mac Managing Editor of iMore and weekend Apple Product Professional at a local independent Apple reseller. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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iPhone 6 and iWatch: Can Apple really revolutionize health ... and when?


I think you expressed it best as this being a potential evolutionary development for Apple and it's technologies. I have my iPhone on me pretty much every waking hour of the day - except when I'm working out. Even then, it's always within eye-shot so I can check what that notification was. I would love, love, love to have biometric feedback options introduced into Apple's product line. Ideally, I'd love all of this to be bundled into the iPhone or at least supplemented by Apple's iWatch/fitbit tech thingy.
I look forward to see what Apple will offer & wow me with this year.

Having an iWatch and/or iOS app that is a display for continuous glucose monitoring and monitoring and control of insulin pumps would be awesome.

It would be, but I'm not satisified the technology is there to make it happen yet. Also, that's great for diabetics, but it's not exactly a mass-market product.

Yes, and it could revolutionize mobile payments of it would just use NFC! it doesn't even have to allow wallet, just get more payment terminals in the wild. So the iPhone goes, so will industry.

And by the way... EMR (electronic medical records) are failing now because. Every player uses their huge political ($$$) influence to make sure that no one gets a chance to have their system universally adopted. So we have several crappy programs that doctors hate, AND they can't cross talk.

So you bring up a good point... If, in the age of socialized medicine (which we have, it just hasn't gotten to 100% of the pop, which it will soon) is stupid. It's bad enough that the government reimbursement rate is 26% on the dollar for seniors which are forced to be in the system, and for the poor on Medicaid... But on top of that, even the people in this broken system still don't have a single EMR system just for them so that when they go from hospital to hospital, their records are always available.

I'm interested to know what everyones views are regards the potential risks of cell phones and their radiation. If cell phones really do emit hazardous to health radiation then what about all this future wearable technology. Will these 'health/fitness devices improve our health or hamper it?

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iWatch won't have the phone element build inside so it shouldn't be that bad, and I don't believe that iPhone should become such a health companion (if it's even possible). iPhone has a different format and purpose than a mini device on your wrist and even if it gains some health functionality with new sensors (M8 co-processor ?) then it won't compete/contradict what iWatch is all about. Of course all of this is almost useless on the iPad so Apple will need something else to excite the crowd with their upcoming tablet.

"If cell phones really do emit hazardous to health radiation then what about all this future wearable technology."

That's a huge "if." To date, no credible scientific studies have linked a causal relationship between cell phone EMF and cancer.

You have plenty of EMF radiation flying through your body all day. Between terrestrial radio signals (such as radio stations, TV broadcasts, cell phones, WiFi, computers, microwaves ovens, etc) to normal radiation from solar energy, if the radio waves were really going to kill us all, the human race would have died off already. As Peter said, there have been no studies showing any compelling evidence of a link between radio wave emissions and negative health effects (within the "safe level" guidelines set the FCC, at least).

Now, to clarify, extremely high levels of EMF can have (temporary) deleterious effects such as nausea, dizziness and even paranoia. But we're talking about levels 50 times higher than what you get from a cell phone before those effects start happening. Your average level of EMF (in say, your kitchen) is probably about 0.6G just from lights, electrical wiring, appliances, etc. Being within a couple of inches of a cell phone while it's transmitting might jump that up to about 2.0G, but that drops exponentially with distance and disappears into the "background radiation" at about 6 inches. The point at which people with EMF sensitivity start to feel the effects is usually around 100+G.

Honestly, we don't *know* that cell phones are safe. There are plenty of articles you can find on the 'net where some doctor tries to show "evidence" that cell phones are slowly killing us, but most of this is evidence is very circumstantial. People often seem to forget the one activity that we *all* engage in that is definitely slowly killing us: living.

I think this approach is going to be great. I can't wait to see if this come to fruition.

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I'm a physician myself and agree with you that HIPAA has made health IT a nightmare even though It was not one of the intended consequences. I do disagree with you that Apple may not be able to really make a dent and disrupt things. I work at a large hospital in the midwest almost all the physicians are using iPhones. Patient care has gotten so complex their is a specialist for every organ system and its difficult to communicate and coordinate care amongst the various sub specialists. I've been using iMessage with great results. Apparently its not supposedly compliant with security standards according to our IT dept. However its pretty obvious just to myself just using it to coordinate care for patients it can do a lot of good. I think they are going to attack the communication problem in healthcare as well as have some way of tracking biometric data, I also think there is huge money to be made here. They are also a large company so they can lobby to make rule changes to get their technologies in the health care market which is key, a lot of the rules quite frankly are made with good intentions but the execution sucks

This heavy integration between their system and iWatch means that it should be released with iOS 8 or even sooner (with keynote presentation) because the software beta that will be made available will probably reveal all of their plans with this device. There's no reason to show functionality without a device that powers it.
Even if Apple TV won't be the thing that everyone hopes it'll be (only a simple addition of AppStore to their little box would enough) 2014 looks promising with better maps in-the-car presence iOS 7.1, upcoming heath capabilities, secure mobile transactions with PayPal and iBeacons gaining popularity, plus more core tweaks/improvements in iOS 8.

Glucose meter and phone in one device? Personal health records encrypted in iCloud so that when you see a new doctor, you have the records with you. Apple needs to do a lot more that interface with Fitbit or Runkeeper to convince users to use (or continue to use) the iPhone or the Apple ecosystem everyday.

"Personal health records encrypted in iCloud so that when you see a new doctor, you have the records with you."

Nice idea, but how do you propose to get the health records from the doctor to begin with, and make sure it's in a format the iOS device can make any use of? Interoperability is a huge problem with EMR systems right now.

It could even be something that the patients would have to do themselves, such as requesting a copy of their medical records from their doctor and then manually scan it in or something. That's not an "elegant" solution, but there are always options. I'm pretty sure doctor's are required to be able to at least give you a printed version of your medical records if you ask.

Thanks Peter and TenshiNo for your comments.
These future devices are to be wearable and therefore directly in contact with the body for long periods. Is this not potentially high risk. I found this interesting piece when looking up apples safety advice which I remembered reading when I purchased my first iphone.

Apple has issued a safety warning in every iPhone user manual – but, they deceptively printed it in tiny print and located it in a section where no one will see it. Yep, it’s in yours! Go take a look in the section on radio frequency compliance – in the section that talks about SAR (what’s SAR?) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required warning to never use or carry the iPhone on your body. You’ll need a magnifying glass, however as the print is so small, it is barely legible with the naked eye. Here’s a quote of what you’ll find in the user guide that came with your iPhone. (I’ve increased the font size so you can actually read it):

“SAR measurement may exceed the FCC exposure guidelines for body-worn operation if positioned less than 15 mm (5/8 inch) from the body (e.g. when carrying iPhone in your pocket). For optimal mobile device performance and to be sure that human exposure to RF energy does not exceed the FCC, IC, and European Union guidelines, always follow these instructions and precautions: When on a call using the built-in audio receiver in iPhone, hold iPhone with the dock connector pointed down toward your shoulder to increase separation from the antenna. When using iPhone near your body for voice calls or for wireless data transmission over a cellular network, keep iPhone at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) away from the body, and only use carrying cases, belt clips, or holders that do not have metal parts and that maintain at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) separation between iPhone and the body.”

The cell phone industry executives claim that cell phone radiation is not a big deal and there is no unsafe way to use a cell phone. This is what Apple and all the other manufacturers want you to believe. But, the facts tell us otherwise!

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iPhone 6 has an SAR that Nearly Exceeds Legal Radiation Limits for Simultaneous Rating http://www.rfsafe.com/simultaneous-rating-iphone-6-sar-nearly-exceeds-le... Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus is bigger, but bigger is absolutely no excuse for Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) radiation exposure levels that are only .01 under the FCC’s legal limit of 1.6 watts per kilogram (W/kg).

It’s easy to dismiss Apple’s new iPhone 6 Plus as merely catching up to Android in size, but Apple is still nowhere near catching up with regards to cell phone radiation safety. Source rfsafe.com

Hippa and technology fragmentation is a disaster. For God's sake , it's 2014... I can look an any social media and find out where my family or friends are or what is going on in their lives in about 30 seconds. But if I go to a new doctors office it takes and act of congress for them to just to even verify if I have health insurance. And with all the various methods of data storage... It's a wonder everything hasn't fallen apart. I'm all for free enterprise and capitalism but there are some places where it just doesn't work. Some tech company needs to bring consistency to it all and I don't care if it's Apple or Microsoft or whoever! I can't choose between power companies at home, maybe healthcare needs the same treatment. Forget obamacare, this will save $$$ across the board!

"Let's face it, anyone can introduce a smartwatch or even more so, a fitness bracelet ..."

A guy I know went to CES, and he made 3 observations:

1. The car companies at CES treated it like any other auto show. Their employees were specifically told to *not* talk about the tech in their cars.

2. iPhone and iPad cases and accessories were absolutely everywhere.

3. This year's techno-fad was what he calls "disposable electronics." Cheap smart watches, cheap fitness band-like devices, cheap wearable tech in general.

Observation #3 is almost exactly what happened in 2010, just before the iPad was announced. The "industry" started believing rumors that Apple would release some kind of computing pad, and they all jumped the gun in order to be first on the market. And few if any of them survived after iPad launched. (Their demise being hastened by the iPad's surprising $499 price point. Everyone expected it to be $999.)