Apple Plans To Take An Even Bigger Bite Out Of Health Care. Here's How.

Dan Diamond, Executive Editor

Apple held its latest live event on Wednesday—its biannual carnival-like product demo, with a parade of presenters showing off new apps and devices, and millions of viewers watching from around the world.

But if you wanted to see how company leaders are envisioning Apple's role in health care, you didn't have to look far.

"We are about to make some monster announcements," said Apple CEO Tim Cook, kicking off the two-hour-plus show.

"I'd like to get right in and talk about Apple Watch."

Cook explained how for some Apple users, the watch's ability to get them moving has improved their health. Three rings track users' daily activity: How much you stand, how much you move, and how many calories you burn.

"Closing those rings has become a healthy obsession," Cook said. "To many people … the Apple Watch has been life-changing."

Cook's message wasn't surprising. Ever since the company announced Watch a year ago, Apple's most consistent sales pitch is that users would stop sitting, start moving, and see improvements in their fitness.

It's also difficult to prove. To be clear, we don't know how many users have had their "lives changed" by Watch; Apple has zealously guarded its sales numbers, and the company hasn't posted any sort of rigorous clinical study yet.

Will Apple Watch 'revolutionize' health care? Three reasons to be cautious.

Instead, the most interesting news for health care watchers on Tuesday was a software update—watchOS 2, the new platform for Watch.

(As someone who owns an Apple Watch, I can attest to the general need for a software update. At its best, Apple Watch is like having a simplified iPhone on your wrist. But too often, the watch platform is too simple and difficult to use.)

Apple says that watchOS 2 will lead to new functionalities, specifically by allowing third-party developers to create ambitious new apps. And to demonstrate, Apple brought AirStrip CEO Cameron Powell on stage.

Powell's company develops apps designed to help clinicians use Apple devices; AirStrip acts as a sort of landing pad to pull together crucial medical information in one display. In his product demo, Powell showed off how Apple Watch, with its new software, would be able to display real-time data on patients.

"Once I have the watch on, I'm securely authenticated until I take the watch off," Powell said. That allows for HIPAA-compliant messages and data exchange; for example, a nurse can send a single, short alert to a doctor that contains patients' vitals and other key information.

Powell also explained how Apple Watch's new functionality allows doctors to better perform remote monitoring. For instance, he demonstrated how pregnant women would be able to use Apple Watch's sensors to check on the heart rate of the fetus in a high-risk pregnancy, with doctors receiving the real-time information from miles away.

Powell said that Apple Watch is a "game-changer" for health care. Is he right? We debated Apple's health care strategy in a new episode of the Weekly Briefing this week, and generally concluded that it's far too early to say.

It's important to remember that only a tiny number of Americans are using Apple Watch. And obviously Powell (and Apple!) have no small motivation in convincing us that these products are transformative.

But Apple's already lined up key partnerships with top providers like Mayo Clinic and key players like Epic, who will help pilot devices and apps. The company has loyal customers in health care: Physicians are infamous Apple devotees, and bought the iPhone 5 at a rate that was four times faster than the general population. Meanwhile, developers are working on hundreds of health care apps for Watch; even if AirStrip flops, Apple will have a runway to launch its mobile health strategy.

And it's clear that Apple remains committed to its ambitious health care plan. In 2013, the company told FDA that Apple had a " moral obligation" to use its size and scale to move into health care, and make it better.

Wednesday's event only underscored that goal.

"Isn't that great?" said Apple executive Jeff Williams, as Powell concluded his demonstration. "That's why we do what we do," Williams added. "That's why we do what we do."

Can Apple really 'transform' health care?

On a brand-new episode of the Weekly Briefing, Dan, Rivka Friedman, and Rob Lazerow discuss how Apple wants to change health care, and why so many companies are trying to "transform" health care.

You can listen to the show here or by clicking on the player below.

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