Apple is Finally Making Strides in Healthcare

Apple isn't the only tech company that's tried to get into healthcare. Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and most recently Oracle, have all been trying hard to fix the broken healthcare industry.

Apple recently announced its plans to add more health detection features in their next series of watches, particularly hypertension and apnea among others. 

However, the company’s push towards healthcare dates to 2011 when Apple worked with Avolonte, a health-care company, on a secret project dubbed E5 that aimed at creating non-invasive blood glucose monitoring. They even wanted to start Apple Clinics. 

All these, probably to address the broken healthcare system in the US

Interestingly, Apple isn’t the only tech company that’s tried to get into the healthcare sector. Being considered a broken industry by many tech players, healthcare is also seen as a prospective revenue stream. Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Oracle, have all entered the health space. 

Late last year, Microsoft started utilising GPT-3 to find solutions and impact across the healthcare sector, including consultation and treatment recommendations. Now, they are busy experimenting with GPT-4

Google, on the other hand, through their large language model Med-PaLM-2 is looking at assisting with medical questions in an accurate and safe manner. 

Recently, Oracle unveiled a number of innovative solutions to enhance patient care, clinical expertise and improve the healthcare system as a whole. 

Here’s a quick glimpse into what big tech are upto in the healthcare industry: 

An “Apple” A Day, Keeps Doctor Away Smiling 

“If you zoom out into the future and you look back and you ask the question – what was Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind? It will be about health.” In a 2019 CNBC interview, CEO Tim Cook, spoke about ‘democratising’ healthcare and their aim to empower individuals in managing their health by leveraging existing institutional knowledge, and highlighting their early stages in this endeavour. 

While Apple had been aggressively working on integrating health monitoring and disease prevention into its devices, Bloomberg reported that the company’s strategy faced setbacks owing to philosophical differences, conservative culture and technological constraints.

Investing time and millions of dollars, researchers at Avalonte worked on using short-wave infrared absorption spectroscopy as a method for non-invasive glucose measurement, however it did not materialise. This led to the company releasing the Apple watch as a niche accessory to complement an iPhone, and not as a health device, as per original vision. 

Healthcare struggles 

In a WSJ Podcast, health technology reporter, Rolfe Winkler, called healthcare as technology’s “white whale.” Being a huge, attractive market for disruption, the field is considered complex- “It’s not like you can write software that just solves problems faced by the human body and all the regulations, payer schemes, and just junk that goes with healthcare.” Apple, along with others, experimented in this direction. 

In 2021, Haven healthcare, a joint venture between Apple, JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway, was dismantled in less than three years of its launch. The collaboration was set up with an aim to lower costs and improve outcomes in employee healthcare. However, the venture failed owing to inadequate market power, existing US healthcare system and the pandemic. The failure marked the difficulty of altering American healthcare, a webbed framework of doctors, insurers, drugmakers and middlemen that costs the country $3.5 trillion annually. 

Apple even wanted to experiment with a primary care service for its employees by linking data from their devices with clinical care. However, the project did not pick up as employees questioned the integrity of data collected through the service. 

Will Not Give Up

Despite initial setbacks on their health devices, and failed plans of health clinics, Apple is relentlessly working towards adding additional health features on its devices. The company. It is said that next year, Apple watches will be able to detect hypertension and sleep apnea. Furthermore, Apple is also working on bringing hearing-aid capabilities to its AirPods. 

The company is also aggressively working on wellness-related features to address mental well-being of users. Earlier this year, it was reported that Apple is working on an AI-powered health coaching service for tracking emotions. Furthermore, there are plans to make Vision Pro headsets as a health and fitness device too. 

With big tech companies aggressively entering the healthcare sector, latest being OpenAI that partnered with Whoop to power their smartwatches, Apple seems to be way ahead with a solid roadmap and vision for the health domain. The company is also in talks to get regulatory approvals that can allow Apple to interpret data for its users. 

Interestingly, out of the big tech companies that are actively involved in the space, Apple is the only company that has niche hardware health products for direct users. Other tech giants are offering solutions that mostly aid hospitals and clinics in offering better solutions for patients. Apple’s involvement in health results in consumer products that are accessible for everybody – a truly unique approach in healthcare. 

Going by its ambitious plan, it is likely that 2024 might be Apple’s year for further health tech breakthroughs. Who knows owning Apple products might just save your life someday. 

Vandana Nair
As a rare blend of engineering, MBA, and journalism degree, Vandana Nair brings a unique combination of technical know-how, business acumen, and storytelling skills to the table. Her insatiable curiosity for all things startups, businesses, and AI technologies ensures that there's always a fresh and insightful perspective to her reporting.

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