Will the New Apple Product Accelerate Healthcare’s Shift to Consumerism?
The Apple Watch market release on April 24 is not only a significant event for the consumer electronics industry, but it will be a significant event for healthcare as well. More than simply a version of the iPhone that fits on a wrist, the Apple Watch promises to be a tipping point for engaging consumers in their healthcare (a topic I wrote about here last year).
Certainly, this evolution will be gradual, and the health and fitness apps available for the smart watch are limited so far. But if sales of the Apple Watch are anything similar to iPhone, iPad and iTunes sales in the last 10 years, then this device will indeed influence how consumers capture, track and share personal health data with providers.
Why? Because the Apple Watch, unlike any of the countless consumer fitness-monitoring devices before it, isn’t just for counting steps or calories. It’s designed to be integrated into every moment of the wearer’s waking hours, offering a calendar, weather forecasts, emails, text messages, phone calls, music, and, of course, the ability to track steps walked, miles run, heart rate and total body movement throughout the day. It even tells the time!
This constant monitoring and integration into consumers’ daily lives—and the fact that they will wear the device on their wrists instead of stuffing it into a pocket—is why the Apple Watch will greatly influence health engagement where others have failed.
Apple changes things
Smart watches have been around since at least 2013, but Apple and its brand, reputation and devoted customer base ensure not only heavy sales, but also extensive coverage in the news media that other consumer technology companies would kill for.
However, the first generation of any transformative consumer technology—television, VCR, Internet modem or smart watch—is rarely the most purchased. Apple will certainly learn from this first version, refine it and add features that likely will include more health and fitness capabilities and integrations with healthcare organizations’ information systems.
This gradual acceptance means healthcare organizations have some time before consumers insist that providers capture data collected from the Apple Watch and combine it with their electronic health records (EHRs). Regardless of how fast this demand grows, numerous healthcare-centric Apple Watch apps already are in development due to the smart watch’s bio-sensing technologies.
Preparing for the demand
Also driving this shift, as I wrote about last year, is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which changed how millions of Americans acquire health insurance. Consumers now shop online for health coverage the same way they shop for airline tickets or clothing. Higher co-pays and deductibles mean that consumers are sharing more expenses with health plans and are inquiring more often about the cost of tests and services. Eventual Apple Watch interoperability is one of the many new expectations that consumers will have of providers.
Organizations can start preparing now for this change by exploring technology companies that offer effective strategies for capturing data from Apple Watches, or any health-monitoring devices, to deliver relevant notifications to providers—in context—to help support clinical decisions. For example, is the 50-year-old male patient who is transmitting a 135 beats-per-minute heart rate through his smart watch experiencing a cardiac event, or is he just training for a half-marathon? Technologies that can combine watch data with the patient’s EHR information and run an algorithm to determine if an intervention is necessary offer the kinds of analytics that providers will need to keep up with consumer expectations.
Providers, however, shouldn’t wait too long. While its evolution may be somewhat gradual, the Apple Watch’s ability to accelerate consumer health engagement is likely to be relatively swift. Perhaps the best example as to why comes from the technology reporter for The New York Times, who after spending three days wearing it wrote that “the [Apple] watch became something like a natural extension of my body—a direct link, in a way that I’ve never felt before, from the digital world to my brain.”³
That direct link is what healthcare providers must leverage to better monitor and improve chronic-condition management, as well as consumer eating and exercise habits. The Apple Watch appears to be a significant tool that will help providers reach this goal.
About the author: Vern Davenport is CEO of Medfusion, a leader in consumer-driven healthcare solutions. Davenport has decades of healthcare and healthcare technology experience in operations and transformational change. Most recently, he led Medquist where he managed a turnaround and rebranding effort to M*Modal, resulting in a successful privatization process. Previously, Davenport has served as CEO of Misys Healthcare where he led the merger of the company with Allscripts. He has also served as a strategy consultant to the chairman of Quintiles, and has been an executive in companies such as Kodak Health, Siemens Medical, Shared Medical Solutions and IBM.