Apple reportedly explored opening primary healthcare clinics, hiring its own "Apple doctors"

Steven Loeb · June 16, 2021 · Short URL:

The idea was to connect Apple Watch data with virtual and in-person care

The three big "As" of tech, Amazon, Apple and Alphabet, have all made healthcare a signature part of their platforms over the last few years. While at least two of those companies go back and forth on being the highest valued company ever, healthcare is such a big, unwieldy, and complicated space that it has vexed even those with the most resources to tackle it. 

Amazon, for example, failed in its mission to overhaul the healthcare system when Haven, the healthcare company that emerged from a joint venture between JP Morgan Chase, Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway in 2018, abruptly shut down earlier this year

Apple, similarly, has struggled to overhaul the healthcare system; specifically, the company looked into offering its own primary-care medicine app, an effort that never got off the ground, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

The idea first came about in 2016, when Apple was trying to figure out what to do with all of the health and wellness data that it was collecting from the Apple Watch, which had been released the year before. The idea it came up with was to use that data to improve the health of its users, and to do this the company would combining it with virtual and in-person care provided by "Apple doctors."

In addition to primary care, Apple would also offer a subscription-based personalized health program, allowing it to continuously monitor the health of its users. 

The company initially tested out the service on its own employees, taking over a health clinic near its Apple Park headquarters, hiring Dr. Sumbul Desai from Stanford University to lead it. One initiative of the project, codenamed Casper, was a digital health app called HealthHabit, which would connect users with clinicians via chat, encourage them to set health challenges. 

However, the app, which was tested on Apple employees, reportedly struggled to catch on since it launched earlier this year, with only half the people who downloaded it having enrolled. Even among those who did enrolled, the engagement has been low, according to the documents seen by the Journal. On top of that, employees have reportedly raised concerns about the integrity of the data.

Apple denied these accusations to the Wall Street Journal, with a spokesperson saying that, "Many of the assertions in this report are based on incomplete, outdated and inaccurate information." 

The report also mentions an incident in which an employee voiced her concerns to Dr. Desai about the data; she left Apple only weeks after, and the incident is said to have been part of the reason, an allegation that Apple also denied.   

"This matter was investigated thoroughly and the allegations could not be substantiated," the Apple spokesman told the Journal. 

Apple's healthcare initiatives

While its primary care solution may not have been a success, Apple does have experience running its own in-person clinics, having launched AC Wellness, its own medical clinic for its own employees, in 2018.

The company also made a number of moves in the healthcare space over the course of 2020; that included pledging to donate $15 million worldwide to help with the COVID-19 response, while also releasing a new screening tool and set of resources designed to help people stay informed and take the proper steps to protect their health, based on CDC guidelines. That included a new COVID-19 website, and COVID-19 app, which were created in partnership with the CDC, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and FEMA.

In addition, Apple enabled Siri to answer questions about COVID, allowing customers to access guidance and resources from the CDC and a curated collection of telehealth apps that were made available on the App Store.

In April, Google and Apple announced what they called "a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design."

The initiative included both companies releasing APIs to allow interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. It also involved using Bluetooth  technology to assist in contact tracing. 

Apple also expanded further into healthcare wearables. In September of last year, the company held an event in which it unveiled Fitness+, the first fitness experience built for Apple Watch, which is scheduled to be available later this year. Apple Fitness+ uses metrics from Apple Watch so that users can get a personalized workout experience. It will launch with workout types such as Cycling, Treadmill, Rowing, HIIT, Strength, Yoga, Dance, Core, and Mindful Cooldown; each one will be accompanied by music that is curated by the Fitness+ Trainers. 

VatorNews reached out to Apple for comment on the report. We will update this story if we learn 

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