(Bloomberg) — So far Apple’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 health care experts hired by Apple in recent years are building improved electronic health record software that can better analyze 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.
Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook wants Apple to do more in software and services to secure new sources of revenue and make customers more dependent on the company’s devices. The $8 trillion global health care industry is a big opportunity.
“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 in Amsterdam. “Health is a huge issue around the world and we think it’s ripe for simplicity and a new view.” An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.
Gliimpse of future
Earlier this year, Apple bought Gliimpse, a startup 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 U.S. 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.
Building more sensors into the Watch serves a limited purpose. An accelerometer can generate most of the useful data needed to monitor a person’s well-being, according to one person with knowledge of Apple’s plans. A glucometer or blood-pressure sensor would only help a small percentage of users, the person said.
Adding new medical sensors would also likely require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a much higher bar for Apple to cross.