When Apple Inc. unveils new products Tuesday, one of the tech industry’s most anticipated events of the year, it will have Mayo Clinic at its side to encourage people to use smartphones, and possibly a smartwatch, to monitor health.
The combination of Rochester-based Mayo, one of the best-known names in health care, and Apple could be a major boost to the practice of routinely tracking health conditions and fitness performance.
The products Apple unveils at noon Minnesota time will come with a new app, Health, that holds data collected either by the gadgets or entered by a user. Mayo will show data from the Health app can flow into the more sophisticated management system of a major health center. The two companies have been working together for about two years.
The app creates another trove of personal information that Apple and health care providers will need to protect. Just last week, the company was at the center of a controversy when hackers mined the photographs of celebrities that were stored on its iCloud backup system.
And yet, people increasingly are seeking more health information and involvement in medical decisions and the latest smart gadgets are a reflection of that demand, said Wayne Kaniewski, a Minneapolis physician and owner of a health records consulting firm. “If you’re motivated enough to wear one of those, you’re more likely to respond to what the devices tell you,” he said.
It also would create a mountain of new data for doctors to sift through as they assess and interact with patients. “Doctors are spending an awful lot more time being data-entry people rather than caring for patients,” Kaniewski said. “We’ve gotten obsessed with data collection.”
Electronics makers like Apple also see health as a natural extension to the type of information people already possess and use on smartphones and other mobile gadgets. Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp., makers of mobile software, have also created health and fitness applications and data services.
For health care providers like Mayo, the opportunity for exposure on a smartphone can attract new patients and reinforce ties to existing ones. Mayo already provides an app to patients that allows them to see many of their personal health records, including results of lab tests.
But the ability to cheaply and regularly monitor health is emerging at the same time as another huge change in the U.S. health care system, one that will be unfolding for years — the shift in health and insurance funding from employers to individuals.
It’s a change akin to the way companies over the past two decades have gotten out of providing pensions and individuals in that time have taken responsibility for retirement savings through 401(k) plans and other investing. “That was an evolution and now it’s common and people don’t give it a second thought,” says John Wald, medical director of marketing at Mayo. “We’re at the start of that evolution in health care.”
Wald said he believes that, in time, the most expensive and important financial decision people make will not be a house purchase but the long-term funding of health care.
“Consumers are really going to have to look at their budget and see that the lowest cost for a health care plan may not be the wisest investment,” he said. “They may have a higher out-of-pocket expense. They may go from one provider to the next and the next without getting an answer for their clinical question. They’ll start to figure out where the best value is and that may not be, as we know in other areas of consumerism, the cheapest product.”
Smartphones and other wearable devices will play a role by reducing the expense of interacting with doctors, especially those in advanced hospitals like Mayo, and collecting data that can be used to detect changes in health. Some of the data may be used, just as corporate wellness programs are today, to create incentives that lower costs.
Apple first announced its plans for a health-related feature on its devices in June during a conference with software developers. At the time, its executives gave vague details about what the Health app would do on iPhone and its other devices.
Since then, the company has released several test versions of new software that have shown that it is creating a repository for data generated during fitness workouts, such as workout type, duration, and calories burned. But the new version of its iPhone and an expected smartwatch may be able to take other measurements, such as pulse rate and body temperature.
Apple and Mayo started working together after Apple learned about software Mayo developed for its doctors and nurses to enter and obtain patient information on iPads and iPhones. Apple in 2012 placed on its website a business profile and video of Mayo’s work with its products.
“They got to know us as an organization and we started to have conversations of how we could potentially interact,” Wald said. “We didn’t exactly know what it was right away but it became this data repository that would allow patients to not only collect the data but then to start to use and understand that data.”