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Apple Watch: The future of medical devices?

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The Apple Watch: Implications for Healthcare
By: Adeline Heymann and Camie Rodan, Insights & Innovation
Wunderman World Health, DC
September 2014

On September 10, Apple announced a new product: the Apple Watch. This new wearable device has great implications for the healthcare market. While it boosts the wearable fitness technology trend, it will also allow healthcare providers to collect objective data about their patients, potentially improving disease monitoring. This new product demonstrates Apple’s investment in revolutionizing the future of healthcare by creating a new framework for health data integration. The watch will be available in early 2015 and will be starting at $349.

Key Information

About the Product:

  • Product Specs: The Apple Watch can be purchased in two sizes (38mm and 42mm) with multiple interchangeable face and strap combinations (standard, sport, and edition). All models have a sapphire display, which provides greater scratch resistance than in current smartphones.
  •  Interaction: Users can interact with the watch in 4 ways: using the crown dial, touching or applying pressure to the screen, voice activation, and through movement. Notifications will arrive through a gentle buzz called the Taptic Engine. The watch will support independent apps, which gives it an advantage over other wearable devices that require a mobile app to access information. However, the watch will require the use of an iPhone (model 5 or later) in order to sync data and leverage additional tools such as GPS and Siri.

About the Features:

  • Health tracking: The Apple watch will have ten sensors, varying from the ability to track calories and weight to using the accelerator to identify if a user is sitting or standing. It also has a heart-rate monitor that will include target cardio and fat burning zone information. While there are existing apps that measure steps or miles already, the addition of the heart-rate monitor and accelerator will enable users to track activities such as standing, spin class, or stretching.
  •  Push notification reminders: A user is able to program the watch with reminders, such as calorie goals or standing goals. While these exist on phones already, the reminders will deliver a buzz on the wrist that make it more likely to notice the reminder immediately. The watch will also visualize progress in achieving personal goals and send buzz notifications to encourage a user to stay active.
  • Health app: The Health app is now the central health dashboard where users can aggregate their fitness and health data into one place. Third-party apps can integrate their data into this unified dashboard.
  • HealthKit framework: This new tool for developers enables a common platform for data exchanges, collection, and visualization. This is a new standard for health data collection and provides the guidelines for third-party apps to integrate. Once the data is integrated through the HealthKit framework, it can be accessed within the Health app dashboard.

Key Barriers:

  • Battery life: It is expected that the watch will need to be charged daily. This causes limitations for tracking certain data (i.e., sleep information). While wireless charging is being evaluated for a future iteration of the product, it is not yet available.
  • Privacy: The watch will collect personal data, and the implications of how this data can be used has raised privacy concerns. While the company has recently revised privacy guidelines, it is unclear how these guidelines will be monitored.

Implications and Action Items

Game changer in the wearable device space:

  • Because the watch can support its own apps and has ten unique sensors, it is expected to become the market leader in wearable devices. While FitBit and Up data can be integrated into the HealthKit, it is assumed the watch will ultimately replace those devices. Future iterations of the watch may include hydration tracking, glucose monitoring, and sleep tracking. These additional sensors will enable the watch to compete with medical devices.
  • The conversation button allows for communication between two parties, which could be leveraged by senior citizens to call 911, a hospital, or a caregiver in the case of an emergency

The next iteration of the quantified self:

  • The quantified self-movement of incorporating technology and data to enhance human behavior has seen tremendous growth. The Apple Watch allows for increased self-monitoring of activity, which will generate greater awareness. Because the HealthKit will set a standard for how to collect and visualize data, all healthcare data will be connected. The buzz of the watch will encourage users to complete their goals and to share them with friends, trainers, and doctors.
  • Users will be able to save their information within the Health app and are able to create emergency card information (containing blood type or allergies) that is accessible by other users directly from the lock screen. This will allow doctors to see this information instantaneously in times of emergency

Integrated healthcare data:

  •  Users will be able to share their blood pressure or calories consumed with their doctors. It will be possible for a physician to collect Apple Watch data into an EHR and then respond back through a PHR app or Health app integration. For some conditions, this electronic monitoring and data sharing can eliminate trips to the doctor’s office or quickly initiate the need for alternate dosing. For other conditions, the data can be used for medical research or clinical trials. While Apple is in discussions with the FDA to get approval, no updates have been made public.
  • Notifications, such as refill reminders and prescription pickups, can be pushed to the user. In addition, the new Apple Pay feature could allow users to pay for their medications by touching the watch to a compatible payment terminal. The user could access copay cards within Passbook or health insurance information via the Health app and eliminate the need for cards or paper entirely.
  • For Health Care Professionals signing into ERHs, it will be possible to sign in via Touch ID (fingerprint recognition) and respond to patients and accept and decline appointments within the EHR system. Patients can then receive appointment reminders through the buzz of the watch.
  • With HealthKit, healthcare marketers and application developers will have the opportunity to advance health monitoring to a new level, developing apps that closely align with patient treatment plans and disease management models.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts
The Apple Watch will disturb the wearable device market. In addition, as it continues to expand the sensor capabilities and with possible FDA approval, it will become a contender in the medical-device category. Apple has created a framework to collect and integrate health care data through the HealthKit, the new standard for how healthcare data is collected and presented. While the watch is not yet available for purchase, it can be expected that Apple Watch app development has already begun.


http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Apple-Watch-Have-What-Consumers-Want/1011199/1 http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/09/10/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-apple-watchs-health-and-fitness-features/ http://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/2014/06/03/apple-enters-the-healthcare-software-ecosystem/

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