Success of Consumer-Based Apple Watch Tied to Healthcare Stakeholders

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Apple’s expected launch today of its long-awaited iWatch device could revolutionize the mobile healthcare market by capturing the hearts and minds of consumers.

However, two industry analysts say the success of this “smartwatch” with health/activity tracking capabilities hinges on more than just the ability of Apple to attract hordes of consumer users.

“No brand can do better than Apple in attracting consumers. And, no company has better resources and talent to design products that people want to use. The key is whether Apple will not only get the hardware/software piece right but also the right partnerships to help consumers with the motivational factors to positively change their health behaviors,” says Harry Wang, director of health and mobile product research at Parks Associates.

In addition to breakthrough wellness and fitness tracking functions, iWatch must garner partnerships with key healthcare industry stakeholders including providers and health insurers, argues Wang.

“Providers and health insurance companies have immense interest in a new device category like iWatch,” he asserts. “From a provider and insurer perspective, they are looking for long-term, sustainable behavior changes that can really get consumers on the right track so that they can benefit from a device like that. If they see the value there, they will work with Apple to achieve the goal. But, I think it’s too early to tell whether Apple can pull this off at this point.”

Consumers have a strong interest in leveraging wearable sensors to monitor their health and wellness. By 2016, Parks Associates predicts that more than 32 million U.S. consumers—about 10 percent of America’s population—will actively track their personal health and fitness online or via mobile platforms like Apple’s iWatch.

Wrong Kind of Users

Nonetheless, given existing users of wearable technology, Frost & Sullivan’s senior vice president of healthcare and life sciences Greg Caressi makes the case that the consumer base for iWatch-type devices will likely skew heavily towards those who are relatively healthy and are already tracking their health and fitness.

“These people cost the healthcare system relatively less than average,” says Caressi. “While the iWatch will likely expand the user base of wearables beyond the current quantified self-movement to some of the ‘worried well,’ it won't likely penetrate many of those who are the highest risk and highest cost as long as it remains a consumer device.”

“The reality is the iWatch won't move the needle on lowering healthcare costs in the U.S.,” he adds. "The real impact on healthcare and healthcare costs in the U.S. will come in the near term through disease management solutions that expand the reach of information flow to clinicians from the high risk and at-risk individuals who suffer from chronic disease conditions that drive 75 percent of healthcare costs in the U.S. Another data collecting device is not the panacea to make this reality.”

A lack of health data is not the problem, according to Caressi, who believes the ability to collect data from iWatch and a variety of other devices--in and of itself--won’t solve the problem of chronic disease in this country. What are lacking in the mHealth market are solutions that integrate the data and provide actionable insights to healthcare providers, payers, and consumers, he says. But, Caressi sees Apple's HealthKit and Samsung's S Health platforms as steps in the right direction.

Apple has created a new tool for developers called HealthKit, which allows health and fitness apps to communicate with each other and to share data. Announced in June at its Worldwide Developers Conference, HealthKit is part of Apple's iOS8 SDK, the latest developer OS for its iPhones and iPads. The company’s strategy is to establish HealthKit as an industry-wide healthcare data hub.

“There are so many data types and a particular challenge is how to integrate the consumer self-tracking data with the more robust clinical data that right now is in different EHR systems run by different software companies and in different healthcare systems,” said Wang. “This is a big task for Apple and its partners.”  

Toward that end, Apple has partnered with the Mayo Clinic and electronic health records vendor Epic, among others, to integrate HealthKit with their EHR systems. Kaiser Permanente is also reportedly piloting a number of mobile apps that leverage HealthKit.

For its part, S Health is a Samsung platform designed to collect and integrate health information for consumers from smartphones and personal health devices. The app aims to "provide easy to use features in a mobile dashboard to help make health improvement an engaging part of everyday life," according to the company. Samsung’s S Health is intended to help users manage their overall health and well-being through capturing and tracking health-related information and metrics.

With S Health, users can track health statistics such as blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and weight. They can also view and track environmental conditions as well as plan an exercise regimen. Last year, Cigna and Samsung signed a multi-year agreement to co-develop health and wellness related features built into Samsung's S Health platform on the company's major smart mobile devices.

Yet, Caressi hastens to add that “we are in the early stages of conceptualizing, building and implementing” the HealthKit and S Health solutions. Still, he concludes that “what Apple is doing with HealthKit (and Epic and Mayo) is the more important event to track and analyze" than today’s launch of iWatch.

Smartwatch Market Heats Up

Regardless, Apple is facing serious challenges from its competitors in an mHealth market that has really heated up this summer. Samsung is building a new mHealth platform—called Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions (SAMI)—a consumer-centered biohealth ecosystem that will be used to collect and correlate data from its wearable devices including Gear, Fitbit and Jawbone. The first device built using the open hardware and software platform is the Simband, a sensor-filled watch that features a tiny motherboard card that will work with the SAMI wireless data broker service.

Not to be outdone, Google in June launched its Google Fit health platform—a direct competitor to Apple’s HealthKit and Samsung’s SAMI—to aggregate data from fitness-tracking devices and health-related apps. Last month, the company released what it calls a “preview” SDK for Google Fit with the full Google Fit SDK slated for release later this year.

Two recent smartwatch releases—the LG G Smartwatch and the Samsung Gear Live Smartwatch—are both web-connected and operate on Google's Android Wear software, a version of is Android mobile operating system for wearable devices and smartwatches. And, if the smartwatch field wasn’t crowded enough already, Microsoft's smartwatch offering will reportedly be available in October.

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