History just might repeat itself when it comes to Apple's HealthKit. If the tech giant triumphs in the healthcare marketplace, it would be yet another example of it perfecting a nascent technology that its competitors had brought to market first.
There were mp3 players before the iPod, smartphones before the iPhone, and tablet computers before the iPad. But Apple's product, in each case, comprehensively bested the opposition and became the market leader.
Apple's HealthKit is the market leader among hospitals looking to move data from patients' at-home devices to their electronic health records, Reuters reported Thursday.
Apple's apparent hospital market dominance comes as it competes not merely with Samsung's and Google's solutions; Verizon and Qualcomm have also entered, at one point, the data-movement market.
In past instances of Apple redefining a product category, it won by making the product more useful and usable. Yes, there were mp3 players before the iPod, but Apple's entry was simply easier to use. That seems to be hospitals' experience with the Apple HealthKit.
It's simple for hospitals to connect Apple's HealthKit to their Epic electronic health-record systems, said Dr. Shafiq Rab, chief information officer at Hackensack University Medical System. And it's simple for patients to connect their phones' data through HealthKit to their hospitals, and it's simple for them to connect their Fitbits and their Withings scales to their phones, he added.
“We took the easy way. It's not that hard at all,” Rab said. The popularity of Apple products among his hospital's patients made the decision to go live with the connection quite easy—though he was keen to emphasize he wanted to establish connections with other tech firms' solutions as well, including Google's.
But the ease of connection prompts another question: Why are hospitals apparently so eager to, at the very least, experiment with these systems? Advocates have been pushing for patient-generated health data—that is, data generated by patients flowing into EHRs—as a requirement for meaningful-use Stage 3. The final rule on the third stage of the incentive program, however, hasn't come out yet.
And even if patient-generated health data does become a government requirement, hospitals and physicians won't have to comply for quite some time. Reimbursement for checking this type of data is minimal. There is genuinely no rush to comply and seemingly little monetary reward. Clinical data supporting self-tracking is minimal at the moment.
Accordingly, some are a bit skeptical of the push.
"I suspect these hospitals are looking for a nice PR lift from saying they are cutting edge and consumer friendly by working with Apple HealthKit,” said Tom Rodgers, the managing director of McKesson's venture arm.
Rodgers says that hospitals and doctors will find it difficult to manage the incoming data without services to help triage it. He speculates that startups will address that niche, perhaps by hiring clinical workers to view alerts and pass the most pressing ones on to hospitals.
Neal Sanger, the chief information officer at Mayo Clinic Health System, said during a Feb. 5 event that while he doesn't know whether “people have figured out the monetization,” the health system is adopting the system because it's the right thing to do for the patient.
Some of Sanger's family members use HealthKit, and find it to be an easier way to manage their health data when it's spread across multiple providers. Like Rab, Sanger said that Mayo was interested in integrating with Samsung's and Google's systems, but hadn't yet done so.
Rab agreed that HealthKit empowers patients to gain easier access to a multitude of records, enabling a more “longitudinal record in the hands of the patient.”
That supports a broader belief, that the system will be helpful for patients seeking to manage their own health, and in particular chronic conditions. Before HealthKit, patients who used at-home devices to send data to doctors found it difficult to see their own data and track its fluctuations.
HealthKit, on the other hand, places that data in the hands of patients and allows them to participate more closely. And Rab is happy with its capability for alerts; doctors and patients can set up thresholds that generate alerts and messages when things go awry.
For example, if a congestive heart failure patient gains too much weight in too short a time, the phone can automatically send a message suggesting that the patient go to the emergency department. And that stream of data encourages conversations between doctors and patients.
“The most value in it I've seen is the relationship between the patient and the physician is better,” he said.
Follow Darius Tahir on Twitter: @dariustahir