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In yet another signal it’s knuckling down on health innovation, Apple secured worldwide rights to a patent for a system that tracks consumers’ health conditions — like asthma — while they sleep, per Mobihealth News.
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The system integrates sensors that lie beneath a consumer’s mattress or pillow and collect health data, which is sent to a processor for analysis and used by the consumer or their healthcare providers. The approach is likely still a far-off concept, but if it materializes, it could have huge implications for Apple’s health play.
Here’s what it means: This is the most recent in a spattering of Apple moves to bulk up consumer-facing health offerings.
- Apple’s focused on rolling out health tracking and disease management features. The latest Apple Watch has earned FDA approval for its electrocardiogram feature that can detect the heart condition atrial fibrillation, which afflicts up to 6 million people in the US, according to the CDC. The Watch is also poised to tack on two new health-tracking apps in the coming months: One app sends pill reminders and could help consumers stay on track of medication regimens, and the other is a comprehensive menstrual cycle tracking app, per Bloomberg.
- Apple seems to be working to tap sleep health tracking as a growth pillar. Apple acquired sleep monitoring device startup Beddit in May 2017, and Beddit submitted an Apple-branded sleep-tracking device that links up to the Beddit app for regulatory approval in December 2018. There’s been buzz that Apple will integrate a sleep-tracking feature into the Apple Watch by 2020. Making inroads into the sleep tracking sector should bode well for Apple since 45% of US adults in 2017 "could imagine" using a sleep tracker, Statista reports.
The bigger picture: If it’s released, an in-bed health monitor could open the floodgates for new healthcare partners.
- Health firms that partner with Apple would have access to a trove of new data. Health organizations might eye Apple as a valuable partner if the product outlined in the patent grants them access to patients’ health data while they’re sleeping, as it could give providers a fuller picture of their patients’ health and conditions. Apple plunged into the health record market in January 2018 with its Health app, which allows iPhone users to store and share their medical records, and its roster of healthcare partners implementing Apple Health Records has swelled recently: Apple now has a 16% penetration in the US hospital market. And granting providers access to a new arsenal of data could help Apple heighten its presence in this market even more.
- Healthcare providers could design more effective treatment strategies if they can access patients’ health data while they’re sleeping. Access to this new health data offers physicians a more in-depth glimpse into how patients are faring when they’re not at the doctor’s office: A subset of people suffering from asthma, for example, report that symptoms worsen at night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Patching the holes in patients’ health profiles could drive improved treatment and health outcomes. This will be especially enticing for providers as reimbursement models that reward them for better patient outcomes and speedier care delivery continue to take shape.
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