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Could Apple really become your 1st go to healthcare provider…

Apple have made their mark in our lives is so many ways – but their next goal, may be their biggest yet

Apple Watch - and the future of non-invasive blood glucose testing

One in a million

Apple has changed the way we work, and even made greater changes to society at large.

The word, or term, smartphone, only ever came about after iPhone became part of our daily carry. And 2.2 billion iPhones later, they continue to permeate our routines. The habit we are now all-too-used to seeing, of walking down the street, head down, and index finger scrolling, again, only came about after Apple dropped the iPhone in to our culture.

Until the iPhone came along, Apple was more of a cool, cult, and not one for the masses. A hardware, and software company for creatives, and designers, shrouded in some secrecy. But, just one device, changed all that forever.

iPhone changed all that, to the point where if we now leave home without our phone, there’s a sense of missing…almost a void. Most companies would be happy enough with one cultural paradigm, but Apple is not known for resting on their laurels.

One more thing

The company has cleverly, and subtly, created its own ecosystem – pretty much a first for a tech company.

Once you open the door with your first iPhone or iPad, they seem to act, almost, as a gateway drug – next comes a Mac, subscriptions, and an Apple Watch. Before you know it, there is no getting out. You’re in it by that point, and there is generally no escape.

As we eagerly await their next big venture, with Apple Vision – their AR/VR headset, they are far from done with another of their current devices – arguably, one that has changed the way of our lives, or lifestyles, even more than iPhone.

Apple is canny at creating tech, and sectors, that we didn’t even know we wanted, or needed. iPad comes to mind, but that pales in the distance when compared to Apple Watch, where it’s heading, and the wearable healthcare market it’s created.

The watch was first unveiled as one of their “one more thing” moments, when CEO, Time Cook walked on stage wearing one for the first time at the Apple Watch 6 event. Now exceeding 100 million users, it’s fast becoming our primary, 24/7 healthcare monitor.

Biggest achievement

Apple Watch has come a long way from its simple fitness tracking beginnings. Possibly, the defining moment for Apple Watch, so far, has been bringing a reliable, effective ECG app to the device.

An electrocardiogram, or ECG, had, until Apple Watch came along, only routinely been available at hospitals. The ECG is one of the most utilised tests in emergency departments internationally. In essence, it measures the electrical pulses that make your heart work. The upper and lower chamber need to be in rhythm. If they’re not, you could go in to atrial fibrillation (AFib), which can lead to strokes and numerous other health complications, if not detected quickly.

Now, your Apple Watch can do this for you whenever you should wish. Apple has effectively bought meaningful healthcare to your wrist.

The company had a vision for Apple Watch years ago, which is why the Health app was developed. The notion behind it was to organise your important health information and make it easy to access in a central and secure place. When showcasing the app, Apple said;

“Health puts important information at your fingertips, including your health records, medications, labs, activity, and sleep. And makes it simple to securely share that information. Additionally, the app collects health and fitness data from your iPhone, the built-in sensors on your Apple Watch, compatible third-party devices, and apps that use HealthKit. Most importantly, The Health app is built to keep data secure and protect your privacy. Your data is encrypted, and you are always in control of your health information.”

Privacy has always been core to Apple, and that makes then the perfect guardian to have developed such a powerful app. All your data is end-to-end encrypted, and only you get to choose, with whom you wish to share it.

Healthcare professionals trust this data too, and are often asking to have access to it. Most of these types of tests, are best measured over a long, and protracted period, which puts Apple Watch, being worn for so many hours a day, in a perfect position.

Partnering up

Apple Watch, and the Health app, are now starting to partner with local healthcare providers, GP’s, and physicians. And, with so many healthcare authorities struggling to keep up with demand, due to slashed budgets, and under-staffing, the fact that more and more tests can be carried out, safely, at home, takes a massive weight off the system. What we are seeing, is the revolution of cost-effective, health-at-home monitoring programs.

Pilot schemes are being carried out too, with healthcare insurers, who are offering discounts if health data is collected and shared with your physician regularly. With your health, the more data that can be collected the better.

In the case of the ECG, for instance, way better than simply gathering data from a short hospital visit, or even wearing a supplied monitor for 48 or 72 hours, is constantly monitoring your heart’s electrical activity. Wearing an Apple Watch allows you to take readings day and night, week after week, month after month.

More to come

On last week’s MacRumors podcast, the hosts, Dan Barbera, Hartley Charlton and myself discussed the next ’big one’ for Apple Watch – non-invasive blood glucose testing.

Traditionally, of course, diabetics would have to use prick tests to check on their blood glucose. Apple is hard at work on developing a system that will use a silicon photonics chip. The chip will use optical absorption spectroscopy – in layman’s terms, it will shine a scattered laser bean through the skin, which can measure the levels, and concentration of glucose in your blood.

It’s sadly not ready to come to market just yet, still being in the ‘proof-of-concept’ phase. That means that although the technology is viable, a means of scaling it down to fit in the watch, or a wearable device, has not, as yet, been fathomed. But, development is moving at pace, and whereas the initial version was a table-topped size device, already it is now down to the size of on an iPhone!

We know from patents filed by Rockley Photonics, that they have been working on systems that can detect everything from body temperature, blood pressure, glucose trends, hydration, to alcohol levels in the blood. And guess who their biggest client is? Yup, that’s right – Apple! Couple that to the fact that Apple’s partner TSMC has also been developing the chip that will power the prototype, and I think it’s safe to assume that Apple is pretty clear on their intentions.

Apple’s most secretive research team, the Exploratory Design Group (XDG), currently has hundreds of researchers working on the feature. Millions of dollars have reportedly already been spent on the non-invasive blood glucose testing feature, which could, feasibly, still yet be years away from general release to the public.

The dream

The functionality has already reached human trials – for the past ten years, actually, with a test group of patients who have pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

The project initially started up under the tenure of Steve Jobs when Apple purchased RareLight. The early stages of development, were carried out anonymously, away from any gaze, or scrutiny, using a shell company – Avolante Health. Latterly, the research was transferred to Apple’s XDG team – the most well guarded of all Apple’s development teams.

The dream, or end goal for Apple, is to be able to monitor your lifestyle, and warn you of the possibility of the early on-set of diabetes. It goes without saying all the regulatory paperwork that Apple will have to go through – globally, to bring this to Apple Watch.

But if they can nail their colours to the mast, and be the first with wearable, early, diabetes detection, it will be yet another massive milestone for the Cupertino company.

Wrapping up

When Apple Watch was first launched, it was seen as not much more than a fitness, and activity monitor.

Wind forwards only a mere eight years, and just look where we are. Blood oxygen, and ECG testing are already with us. Apple Fitness spawned from the watch, and the health app continues to develop at pace.

I’m sure it’s a case of when, and not if, Apple add non-invasive blood glucose testing to the watch, and when they do, they will have achieved, yet another seemingly unassailable first.

Only a few years ago, this would have been the stuff of science fiction, yet now, meaningful, effective healthcare, and lifestyle monitoring from your wrist, in seconds is already a thing.

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