The announcement that IBM and Apple have partnered to bring Big Data analytics to Apple mobile device users in enterprise business settings is getting a cautiously positive reaction from healthcare stakeholders.

Healthcare is one of the primary industries for the alliance, along with retail, banking, travel, transportation, telecommunications and insurance, among others. IBM and Apple expect to have initial industry-specific apps available starting this fall and into 2015.

The pairing of two iconic technology giants has promise, says George Hickman, CIO at Albany Medical Center in New York. “In concept the Apple/IBM deal sounds like a great opportunity to synergize. Apple has heretofore shown a bias to consumer devices, making enterprise deployment a challenge, an area where IBM has been solid for decades. Apple’s agility can provide cultural gains to the marriage however, and the venture offers the promise of aligning big computing with mobile device end uses.”

John Halamka, MD, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, believes the initiative brings higher value to healthcare professionals who already use and like Apple products. “As the CIO of BIDMC, I buy the desktops/laptops but not the iPads/iPhones.  Clinicians buy Apple products themselves because such devices bring them real utility. The IBM deal further emphasizes that iPads/iPhones bring business value and are an increasingly important part of the enterprise ecosystem.” BIMDC’s current inventory of mobile devices includes one Windows phone, two Blackberries, 2,000 Android devices, 4,000 iPhones, 2,000 iPads, 8,000 managed desktops/laptops, and 22,000 network connections.

The new initiative “is really compelling,” says Jason Burke, senior advisor of innovation and advanced analytics at the UNC School of Medicine and UNC Healthcare Systems Center for Innovation. Burke says there is great opportunity for advancements when one looks at IBM’s products, which are so pervasive in healthcare, and Apple’s expertise in mobile. In addition, the results of mixing IBM’s openness with Apple’s strict environmental controls should be interesting.

Kate Borten, president of The Marblehead Group health information security consulting firm, likes the alliance but it will bring security concerns to some degree. “We know physicians have been early adopters of iPads (and iPhones). iPads have been touted as enhancing the doctor-patient interaction, for example, by showing patients what's happening to them. Bringing big data analytics to Apple devices will strengthen Apple's presence in healthcare among physicians and researchers. But healthcare IT organizations trying to manage smart phones will find it increasingly difficult to avoid supporting iOS devices along with more traditionally secure platforms.”

Healthcare CIOs like Apple as a company, but many have been uncomfortable using its mobile products because of issues with how data is presented, and have had to engage other vendors to make the information more presentable, notes Michael Mytych, principal at Health Information Consulting in Menomonee Falls, Wis. Bringing Apple’s functionality and value that consumers enjoy to healthcare professionals is good news, but he cautions that security and enterprise team supportability will be among the keys to success. That said, Mytych believes there is no doubt that the IBM/Apple alliance has expandability options in healthcare, but he doesn’t see the use of analytics on Apple devices being a game-changer. A lot will depend on how the services are priced for the healthcare industry.

Mitch Work, president and CEO at The Work Group Inc. consultancy in Lincolnshire, Ill., finds the partnership intriguing. “Importantly, healthcare will be a targeted industry for the first 100 applications released under the new agreement,” he notes. Both companies stand to benefit - Apple can use IBM's expertise in security and data privacy (read HIPAA) and IBM can use Apple's growing mobile presence in healthcare organizations as an exclusive market for the healthcare applications they are developing, as well as their cloud computing and analytics expertise. Any time two corporate titans like these announce an agreement of this magnitude, the affected industries need to take notice and await the details. For healthcare IT, the devil has always been in details and this is no exception especially when it involves two companies who have not always been successful in their healthcare initiatives.”

Ben Yomtoob, a consultant with Gruppo Marcucci, a benefits technology firm that advises private health insurance exchanges, says the collaboration will accelerate mobile device use, but the industry already is well down that path. Apple already is a major player in collaboration with such telecommunications firms as ATT, Sprint and Verizon, he notes. But the impact of the collaboration on the HIX subset of the healthcare industry may be limited, as vendors serving HIX already have been developing mobile apps.

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