Apple's slow creep towards becoming a health company just made a little progress with the acquisition of Gliimpse, a personal health data startup. It's unclear what Apple plans to do with the company, but I have a free idea for Tim Cook: Let me control my health records on an iPhone. It could save my life. Image: Shutterstock / Gizmodo
The Gliimpse purchase isn't a huge surprise, if only because it was funded by former Apple engineer Anil Sethi. The company's tagline also aligns well with Apple's stated philosophy on personal health data. The words are big and bold on Gliimpse's website: "I should be able to collect my medical records and securely share them with whomever I trust."
Gliimpse essentially offers a records management system that lets patients add documents, share information with doctors and add additional information — say, data from an Apple Watch — that might give care providers a clearer picture of their health. It also gives the patient more agency in the whole process. Again, we don't yet know what Apple will build with Gliimpse's team and technology, but my God, the Cupertino company's size, prowess and knack for elegant design could change the way that healthcare works in an incredible way.
Medical records have historically been a massive, deadtree pain in the arse. Back in 2009, the Obama administration made the bold move to spend $US40 billion ($52 billion) on moving America's medical records from paper to digital databases. Conservatives have called that the program a "disaster", although plenty of right wingers think everything Obama does is a disaster. The White House is obviously more optimistic. In Australia, the government's My Health Record has been rolling out trials across the country, providing an online summary of health information that the patient can control and share.
Simply moving medical records online is only half of the challenge, however. Even if you assume that Obama's plan makes electronic medical records a reality in the US, you can bet that some money-hungry health conglomerate will make it difficult and expensive for patients to manage their records. Healthcare in America is supposed to be difficult and expensive, right?
Apple's health initiatives, namely CareKit and ResearchKit, promise to put data in the hands of patient. That makes great sense, since the data is coming from the patient's body and mind. The idea that Apple might give people full control over their health records, as is the stated goal of Gliimpse, is also exciting because it cuts out that middle man, the companies that would surely love to find a way to make money off this new electronic medical records system.
It would be exciting if Apple decided to take up that mantle. We've seen the company slowly wade into the realm of health data since it launched the Health app back in 2014. However, the app has been slow to take off, since most of the programs so far revolve around specific medical conditions and research. The raw materials for the Health app to become a medical profile, including medical records that could be shared with doctors, are already built. Perhaps with the help of the Gliimpse team, Apple will finally offer an elegant solution to the convoluted and problematic US health records system.
Having access to my own health records would be a lifesaver. I have a couple of chronic conditions that require regular care, and whenever I have to see a new specialist, shuffling my records back and forth is a catastrophe. It took one doctor months to track down a specific blood test, a waiting period that could have been life-threatening if the results were bad. (They weren't.)
There are obviously all kinds of outstanding questions and concerns about a company like Apple becoming the gatekeeper for health data. ResearchKit is already riddled with privacy problems, for example. But the idea that any iPhone-toting American could walk into a new doctor's office and sync up their medical information from a smartphone is the future we deserve. Now, let's see if Apple can actually pull it off.