Apple makes healthy start with US hospitals

MAKING INROADS: Top hospitals are testing Apple's HealthKit service and the Apple Watch (above) could add to the data being recorded.


    Feb 06, 2015

    Apple makes healthy start with US hospitals


    APPLE'S health-care technology is spreading quickly among major United States hospitals, showing early promise as a way for doctors to monitor patients remotely and lower costs.

    Fourteen of 23 top hospitals said they have rolled out a pilot programme of Apple's HealthKit service - which acts as a repository for patient-generated health information like blood pressure, weight or heart rate - or are in talks to do so.

    The pilots aim to help doctors monitor patients with such chronic conditions as diabetes and hypertension. Apple rivals Google and Samsung, which have introduced similar services, are only just starting to reach out to hospitals and other medical partners.

    Such systems allow doctors to watch for early signs of trouble and intervene before a medical problem becomes acute. That could help hospitals avoid repeat admissions, for which they are penalised under new US government guidelines, at a relatively low cost.

    The US health-care market is worth US$3 trillion (S$4 trillion), and research firm IDC Health Insights predicts that 70 per cent of health-care organisations worldwide will invest by 2018 in technology including apps, wearables, remote monitoring and virtual care.

    Those trying out Apple's service include at least eight of the 17 hospitals on a list ranking the best hospitals, the US News & World Report's Honour Roll. Google and Samsung have started discussions with just a few of these hospitals.

    Apple's HealthKit works by gathering data from sources such as glucose measurement tools, food- and exercise-tracking apps, and Wi-Fi connected scales. The company's Apple Watch, due for release in April, promises to add to the range of data that, with patients' consent, can be added to an electronic medical record for doctors to view.

    Ochsner Medical Centre in New Orleans has been working with Apple and Epic Systems, Ochsner's medical records vendor, to roll out a pilot programme for high-risk patients. The team is already tracking several hundred patients who are struggling to control their blood pressure. The devices measure blood pressure and other statistics, and send them to Apple phones and tablets.

    "If we had more data, like daily weights, we could give the patient a call before they need to be hospitalised," said chief clinical transformation officer Dr Richard Milani.

    Sumit Rana, chief technology officer at Epic Systems, said the timing was right for mobile health technology to take off. "We didn't have smartphones 10 years ago; or an explosion of new sensors and devices," Mr Rana said.

    Apple has said that over 600 developers are integrating HealthKit into their health and fitness apps.

    Meanwhile, many of the hospitals said they were eager to try pilots of the Google Fit service, as Google's Android software powers most smartphones. Google said it has several developer partners on board for Fit, which connects to apps and devices, but did not comment on its outreach to hospitals.

    Samsung said it is working with Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital to develop mobile health technology. The firm also has a relationship with the University of California's San Francisco Medical Centre.

    Still, hospitals must decide whether the difficulty of sorting through a deluge of patient-generated data of varying quality is worth the investment.

    "This is a whole new data source that we don't understand the integrity of yet," said William Hanson, chief medical information officer at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

    Apple said it had an "incredible team" of experts in health and fitness, and was talking to medical institutions, health-care and industry experts on ways to deliver its services.

    Experts say there will eventually be a need for common standards to ensure that data can be gathered from both Apple's system and its competitors'.

    "How do we get Apple to work with Samsung? I think it will be a problem eventually," said Brian Carter, a director focused on personal and population health at Cerner, an electronic medical record vendor that is integrated with HealthKit.