Apple’s Commitment to Healthcare Breaks New Ground

on February 4, 2019
Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the summer of 2009, I had the privilege of hosting in my office the former CEO of a large healthcare system in the US. This person was here to share with me about some new healthcare investments he was involved with, but during my conversation with him, he shared with me about a meeting he had with Steve Jobs and some of his team earlier that year. I cannot share this person’s name as his project was private and personal but can share what he told me about his conversation at Apple.

He said that in the meeting, Jobs emphasized that he was deeply frustrated with the health care system and the amount of red tape and disconnection he observed in his quest to deal with his health problems. He then suggested that one of Apple’s future missions was to try and help deal with the healthcare bureaucracy as he called it and to make health a significant initiative for Apple in the future. This former healthcare CEO assessed that “Apple could be the company that could solve some critical problems in healthcare in the future.”

Later that year I wrote a piece in which I relayed this story and said that I felt that Apple’s commitment to health would be one of Steve Jobs’ greatest legacies. This piece was about 16 months before Steve Jobs lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. Now, ten years later, I am more convinced that Apple’s commitment to healthcare is stronger than ever. More importantly, Tim Cook and his team appear to be working overtime to make various aspects of healthcare and personal health a key mission and in the process, honor Steve Jobs’ vision of a better healthcare future. The most recent example that underlines this commitment to health comes from a partnership that Apple launched with Aetna in 2016 and now has a new app that helps their customers manage and monitor their health.

Here is the definitive section of their recent press release on this project:

“Aetna, a CVS Health (NYSE:CVS) business, announced the launch of Attain, a unique health experience designed by Aetna in collaboration with Apple. Through the use of an Apple Watch, the Attain app will provide Aetna members personalized goals, track their daily activity levels, recommend healthy actions, and ultimately reward them for taking these actions to improve their well-being. Reward opportunities include the ability for eligible users to earn their Apple Watch through their participation in the program.

This launch builds on the 2016 collaboration between Aetna and Apple in which 90 percent of participants reported a health Aetna has deep clinical experience, engaging its members across their health care needs from wellness to chronic disease. Apple consistently delivers highly personalized products in a simple yet elegant fashion that prioritizes privacy and data security and helps people live their best lives. The Attain app is the first of its kind — designed specifically to offer users a personalized experience that combines their health history with the power of the Apple Watch to help them achieve better health and well-being.”

This new program with Aetna underlines Apple’s strong commitment to keeping Jobs’ health care legacy moving forward. More importantly, it outlines a more aggressive plan for Apple to be working closely with the healthcare industry in general.

This program with Aetna could be likened to a lot of what we see other big tech companies doing when it comes to IT consulting in general. Companies that can provide hardware, software, and services are adding dedicated programs where the vendor gets more involved in the actual software customization and helps the enterprise develop tailored programs for their customers and employees.

Although Apple does not have a dedicated IT services group, this is the closest to that type of program which mirrors successful services being done already by Dell, HP, Lenovo, and IBM. But this project with Aetna shows Apple has the skills and wherewithal, even without a dedicated IT services group, to meet these kinds of needs and challenges by their customers when it is needed or makes sense.

It also puts the Apple Watch in the spotlight as an essential vehicle for Apple to impact personal healthcare. In the Aetna program, the Apple watch delivers their new Attain app that helps Aetna customers monitor their health on a highly individual and proactive basis. When I talk to healthcare related insurance companies, they tell me it is much cheaper to help a customer stay well then to have to have to cover their hospital costs when illness strikes. That is why almost all primary health care providers are jumping on the role technology can play to keep customers healthy and help them avoid disease.

I rely on the Apple Watch to manage my Diabetes. I wear the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor that checks my blood sugars 24 hours a day. When I need to see what my blood sugars are I no longer have to prick my finger and instead look at my Apple Watch to see the Dexcom reading of my blood sugars. I also use it to take an ECG at least once a week to check my heart health. And of course, I use it to monitor my steps and try to get to 10,000 steps each day. What Apple has done with Aetna is probably just the beginning of many more similar projects they could undertake with healthcare providers.

Although I believe that Apple’s commitment to healthcare started with Steve Jobs’ health problems and this influenced their top leadership to find ways to make Apple more focused on health technology in general, Apple’s commitment to innovation goes well beyond their quest to honor Jobs. Tim Cook and team understand better than most tech leaders how technology could be used in new ways to keep us healthier. They encourage new apps for IOS and Apple Watch and continue to deliver hardware and developer tools that can optimize and maximize ways people can use technology to manage their quest to have healthier lives.

This partnership with Aetna can serve as a guide for how Apple works with other major healthcare industry heavyweights in the future. What they learn from these projects are bound to help Apple create even better hardware, software and services to keep their customers healthier.