Patent filings hint at Apple's potential move into managing healthcare records

Recently published patent filings support the idea that the company is looking to become the Mint.com of health records. (DragonImages/Getty Images)

Apple has already made notable inroads into healthcare with new health features on its Apple Watch and its continued expansion of its Health Records on iPhone feature.

But digital health leaders and analysts see the potential for Apple to become an even bigger player in consumer health, specifically with electronic health records, similar to how the company built an online music sales experience with iTunes.

Recently published patent filings support the idea that the company has ambitions to be the Mint.com of health records by aggregating all consumers’ health data in one place on their mobile devices, Dave Levin, M.D., chief medical officer of Sansoro Health and former CMIO for the Cleveland Clinic, told FierceHealthcare. 

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently published several patent applications from Apple describing technologies and techniques to aggregate and search medical information through user devices. One patent describes building medical provider databases and another patent describes building a tool to search medical providers’ data while protecting the device users’ privacy.

Other patent applications describe things like on-device searching using medical term expressions and techniques for managing access of user devices to third-party sources. Apple filed many of the patents in late 2017 and early 2018.

An Apple representative did not respond to a request for comment on the patent applications.

Mint.com is a money management and financial tracking app that syncs users’ bank accounts, credit cards and other accounts to track and organize financial data and features a streamlined user interface.

Based on the patent application descriptions, Apple may be looking to build functionality like Mint.com which pulls data from different sources automatically, then normalizes and organizes the data to present to it the consumer in a visually appealing way, Levin said.

"And the app will be smart enough to know that when I say cholesterol that I want to see a lipid profile," he said.

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Apple has already indicated its interest in building personal health platforms with the acquisition of digital health startup Gliimpse in 2016. Gliimpse developed a platform that aggregates disparate streams of health information. One of the founders of Gliimpse, Jorge Pozas (now health software engineering manager at Apple) was listed as one of the inventors on Apple’s latest healthcare records patent filings.

While there are tools that already exist to pull in consumers’ health data, most of these tools require some manual inputting. An application that can automate that for consumers on their devices could be a “gamechanger,” Levin said.

David Hyams, a registered patent attorney and senior counsel with The Marbury Law Group, said a move into the electronic health records space plays to Apple’s strength. “Apple’s whole philosophy is that your user experience is through your phone. Apple’s thinking could be to provide all of your medical data and make it available to you on your phone in a way that is convenient and searchable.”

A report from Morgan Stanley estimates that Apple’s market opportunity in healthcare ranges from at least $15 billion to a whopping $313 billion in revenue by 2027, or triple the smartphone market, Bloomberg reported.

According to the Morgan Stanley report, analysts see potential opportunities for Apple with medical grade wearables, more health-related features on the Apple Watch or even acquiring a healthcare company. "Based on what it has done over the last five years, we see Apple creating the building blocks of another ecosystem that puts the consumer at the center," the report said.

RELATED: Apple Watch can detect irregular heart rate, but more research needed—Stanford study

At the same time, Apple has been putting a big focus on privacy in its advertising and highlighting that it doesn't store data. The ads also could be a dig at competitors Facebook and Google as those companies face scrutiny over consumers’ data privacy.

Looking at what Apple did for the online music sales experience with iTunes and adding in its recent focus on privacy, Hyams said the outlines of what Apple might be working on becomes a little clearer.

“Call it iTunes for electronic health records—it’s conveniently available and easy to use, it collects and organizes information automatically in the background, and it’s Apple branded, so it’s a trusted brand,” Hyams said.

One of the recent patent applications also describes a provider subscription system. “They may want to be the service in the middle between consumers and healthcare providers to handle electronic health records,” Hyams noted.

Sloan Gaon, CEO of PulsePoint, a programmatic healthcare technology company, told FierceHealthcare that Apple has significant advantages in the healthcare space over its technology rivals.

“Apple has already developed the technology they’d need to be the leader in a crowded, but outdated space. The continual improvements they’ve made to the Apple Watch over the last year has had huge implications as biometric data becomes increasingly more important in the practice of healthcare generally and clinical research specifically,” Gaon said.

RELATED: Quest Diagnostics becomes 2nd national lab to join Apple Health Records

Technology adoption is the largest hurdle to clear in the healthcare space because both doctors and patients have a level of familiarity with an iPhone or Apple Watch, he said. “The friction they’re already able to remove puts them in an incredibly advantageous position ahead of competitors.”

A recent survey by SmarterHQ found that Amazon is the company most consumers trust with their personal data (48%) followed by banks (30%) and then Apple (26.6%). Google came in as the fourth most trusted (26.2%).

The recent proposed interoperability and information blocking rules published by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT creates a tailwind for companies like Apple that offers a platform to enable consumers to access their health data on mobile devices, Levin said.

“The rules are quite clear that certified health IT, typically electronic health records, must provide a public-facing API that supplies all of the US CDI data set but has to be able to connect that to patients at no cost and no special effort," Levin said. "Health systems, as a condition of participation, have to use certified health IT, which means they will have to offer this."

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