Last Week in Healthcare: Apple Tips Its Wrist

Posted May 22, 2017
By George McLaughlin

Rumors have been whispered for years now—Apple is quietly acquiring strategic companies and hiring biotech engineers to work on medical moonshots. While Apple hasn’t been shy about making their interest in healthcare known, last week was the first time rumors were confirmed for an actual prototype of a potentially game-changing product for blood glucose monitoring.

The product? A “non-invasive continuous” blood glucose monitor available as part of the next iWatch. Apple CEO Tim Cook has apparently been testing a new prototype for the past few weeks, and his willingness to publicly confirm the product signals it’s closer to being delivered to consumers than to being sent back to R&D.

The significance of this report is two-fold:

  1. Anything Apple does has the potential to permeate culture at a rate few companies can match. Bringing transparency to the effects of food and exercise on blood glucose levels could significantly alter millions of individuals diets and actions.
  2. Non-invasive continuous blood glucose monitoring has never been successfully achieved. Groups have tried in the past, but if Apple pulls this off, it could represent a fundamentally significant shift for the estimated 415 million people dealing with diabetes.

Interestingly, it’s still unclear whether the iWatch itself will act as the glucose monitor, or if the function will be fulfilled by an accessory band. Apple has made it clear it isn’t excited about the prospect of having every iWatch go through FDA approval, but to offer a truly valuable tool and experience to diabetics, it’s likely Apple will have to work with the regulatory agency in some capacity.

Initially, Apple’s play may be to target “curious consumers” instead of marketing it as a full-fledged medical device. There is no shortage of data-hungry, health conscious individuals who will try anything that will help confirm their ketogenic diet is delivering the impact they desire. Whether the glucose levels are “medically accurate” probably won’t be the primary concern of non-diabetic consumers simply trying to find the diet that works for them. I know my colleague Qu would be happy to start tracking his blood glucose levels as part of his robust health tracking experiment, and he wouldn’t be deterred if the data was initially less than 100% reliable.

While confirming rumors certainly isn’t the way Steve Jobs would have told the world what Apple’s “next big thing” might be, it’ll be very interesting to see if they can pull this off. It wouldn’t be the first time Apple took a good idea, waited a decade for the technology to catch up, and then delivered a massive success.

Quick Hits

#WannaCry ransomware fallout.

If there’s one thing we learned after the massive ransomware attack that nearly shut down a number of NIH facilities, it is that very few people actually chose to pay the ransom.


Concerns over the status of Cost Sharing Subsidies paid to insurers reaches fever pitch.

Last week, major health groups came out in support of Cost Sharing Reductions (CSRs). A letter was delivered to congressional leaders pleading with them to resolve the uncertainty around whether subsidies paid to insurers will continue. The letter outlines how the swirl around whether the program will stay or be dismantled is the root cause of double-digit premium increases projected for 2018. The letter was signed by:

  • America’s Health Insurance Plans
  • American Academy of Family Physicians
  • American Benefits Council
  • American Hospital Association
  • American Medical Association
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield Association
  • Federation of American Hospitals
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce

That’s all for this week. Check back next Monday for the latest installment, and stay healthy out there.