Apple’s HealthKit: What Does it Mean for Employers

Last week, Apple announced its new HealthKit at their worldwide developers conference. People are increasingly turning to their smartphones and connected devices to manage their health. With HealthKit, Apple is placing a bet on the exploding digital health industry, and making it easier for Apple users to adopt the many exciting new products entering the market. This is great news for employers – and for Jiff!

What is it?

HealthKit is a set of tools built into the iOS platform that will help developers share information across different health applications. It is also an app for users to aggregate and view their data from multiple sources. Consumers have shown a massive amount of interest in tracking their health on their smart phone and this makes it easier for device makers and app developers to enable that.

Why is it important?

The HealthKit will be helpful to Jiff and to other software developers integrating personal health data from multiple health sources. With HealthKit, Jiff will be able to build one integration with Apple and gain access to data from a variety of other applications, locally, on an individual’s iPhone. This should make it faster and more efficient for us to innovate on the Apple platform.

The HealthKit app will also be an important addition to the ecosystem of health aggregators currently available to consumers. Particularly interesting is the announcement that Apple will be able to pull in personal clinical data from sources such as Epic, the electronic health record manufacturer. This move will likely start to “unlock” the consumer data in a way that hasn’t happened before, which will allow app developers to turn that data into meaningful information for consumers. However, with the hundreds of different EHR systems and the high degree of fragmentation, it will be a years before all a consumers data is available at the click of a button.

What are the limitations?

The most obvious drawback is that HealthKit is available only for Apple users. So while it is incredibly useful, it only allows employers (and Jiff) to reach the portion of their employees using HealthKit. Samsung has released LifeCare, which is a similar platform for the Samsung family of devices (more on that in another blog post). The standards and platform battles will continue and the industry is still years away from having common information sharing infrastructure. To reach all your employees on all their devices, employers still need a device agnostic platform that takes advantage of the innovation happening in digital health (like Jiff).

The other limitation for employers is that HealthKit is consumer-facing. The HealthKit app itself doesn’t do anything to enable employers to engage their populations in health initiatives or integrate with your benefit design in any way. Apple – as a consumer products company – will likely not build products to match your specific enterprise goals and company culture, tie incentives to your benefit design, or agree to aggregate and provide data back about your population. Again, that’s where Jiff comes in.

So what do we make of it?

Collecting and aggregating data is step one. The bigger trick is making this information meaningful and actionable for consumers. While there are many directions that Apple could take with the HealthKit app as their starting point, we believe that they will likely continue to encourage and rely on 3rd party developers to sub-segment the consumer population, focus on specific use cases, and build powerful tools for those consumers using this aggregated data. This has been Apple’s entire strategy with their ecosystem and they are very likely to continue this strategy, especially in a vertical they are just entering.

As Rock Health points out in its recently released report, the Apple strategy could help wearable manufacturers focus on hardware, and help software developers specialize on their specific use cases and not have to invest as much in integrations. But it’s still early days and there is a lot more work to do: both on the infrastructure necessary for developers to easily access data from a variety of different sources, and on the innovative products that use this information to encourage behavior change.

6/13/14 UPDATE: Jiff’s own Derek Newell (CEO) was quoted in today’s Forbes article on Google’s new Google Fit:

“Google Health never took off because consumers actually don’t want to aggregate their data,” says Derek Newell, CEO of digital health care platform Jiff. “[]What they want is information. They want meaning, rewards and a feedback loop.”… “There’s lots of little players, and no data standards,” says Newell. “[Apple and Samsung] are going to step in the middle of all that and facilitate the collection of that data and let developers develop on top of it.” Now it looks like Google will do the same.