This week, Fast Company confirmed Apple acquired its first known digital health company. That fact alone was enough to make the health IT industry's collective ears perk up. What's interesting is Apple choose to go with personal health record (PHR) startup Gliimpse. For those who have been following health IT news for while, news about the acquisition prompted many to wonder, "Them? Really?"
“Having seen [Gliimpse], I’m a little bit surprised they bought it,” Health 2.0 co-founder Matthew Holt told MedCityNews' Neil Versel. Versel himself opined on Twitter that direct-to-consumer "is almost always a failure in healthcare."
New backers to an old idea
Historically, PHRs haven't performed as well as backers and vendors have wanted. Famously, Google announced in 2011 it would retire its PHR product, Google Health, saying it was "failing to scale as planned." There are many reasons why personal health records haven't made as many waves as expected.
Overall, consumers rarely are proactive and diligent about inputting the health data to make it a robust service for themselves. Brian Eastwood, consumer engagement and consumer directed healthcare analyst at Chilmark Research, told Healthcare Dive that patient portal technology adoption is generally around 25-35%. A couple of missed days here and some conveniently-forgotten high blood pressure readings there can also skew the overall picture of health for a consumer.
That's just a user-generated scaling barrier. Even with an engaged, active user, the flow of health data between a PHR and a provider organization can prove difficult.
But maybe Apple is onto something...
Gliimpse is a bit more targeted PHR, focusing on chronic health conditions. Eastwood tells Healthcare Dive that Apple's purchase makes more sense in the context of its previous healthcare efforts.
Apple is unique as before the Gliimpse purchase was confirmed, the company started to build up some healthcare credibility with its HealthKit, CareKit and ResearchKit platforms, Eastwood said. In March, the tech giant unveiled its first round of apps on CareKit and a HealthKit advocate in June stated Apple plans to support Health Level 7 Continuity of Care Document to its forthcoming software platform iOS 10.
Taken in context, the potential to share and integrate health data across a multitude of digital health apps and platforms alongside Apple's loyal and fervent user base could give the company an edge in the digital health market. "They're bringing in this potential to collect PHRs into an ecosystem that already exists. A lot of these smaller vendors started from the ground up...[which can make] it hard to find organizations to partner with but Apple has already done that so that might give them a leg up over the previous efforts to try and tap this market," Eastwood said.
CEO Tim Cook has an interest in healthcare market and the industry is not an ancillary side project for the company, Eastwood noted. The Gliimpse purchase "is a sign they do want to start getting more into the consumer health space and to start to build that bridge between patients and provider organizations," he said.
Time will tell
"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," the company stated when the Gliimpse purchase was confirmed. It's currently not certain how Gliimpse's technology will be baked into Apple's tech suite though the company has been known to change up products after acquisitions.
One hurdle Eastwood notes could be bidirectional and congruent data flow. "There could be a challenge with PHRs where healthcare organizations see very little value to them for providing patients with their data. At the same time with the movement that's been a long time coming [there could be] a change with how they interact with their patients," he said.
While it's too soon to tell what the acquisition will mean for the industry -- and if it means anything significant at all -- there is a lot of room for improvement with patient portal technology and Apple does have a good track record behind it that has changed how individuals interact with technology and each other using their products.