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In: Opinions & Features

4.9.15 | Forbes

By Steve Brozak

To read the entire article on Forbes, please click here.

At a little after 12:00 AM Pacific Time consumers will be able to pre-order the Apple Watch online for delivery on April 24th. It is the first new Apple product since the iPad was introduced five years ago and eight years since the introduction of the iPhone. I predict the Apple Watch will be a highly successful product. Unlike Google Glass, which also attracted a lot of initial interest but wasn’t able to initiate technology transfer fast enough with applications, there is already a collection of Apple Watch apps from which users can choose. I believe people will be sitting by their computers tonight, ready to go online to order an Apple Watch because the public is ready to accept wearable devices.

A research study conducted last December indicates that 42% of U.S. and 36% of EU consumers are open to the idea of a wearable device on their wrists. Because the Apple brand is familiar and reliable as a leading-edge electronics supplier, the Apple Watch should have a marketing advantage over competitors in electronic wearables.

What it comes down to is the Apple Watch is not so much an instrument for telling time as it is a personal interactive device that is attached to your body. One of the critical Apple Watch differentiators is its capacity to become the first commercial data-gathering and synthesis system for personal health metrics. By default, Apple Watch capabilities will automatically lead to healthcare monitoring modalities that, until now, have only been the stuff of science fiction.

The critical ingredient for development of new healthcare applications will be the availability of specialized biosensors and apps. Wearable emergency devices, characterized by the television commercial where an elderly person cries “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” were the primitive precursors to Apple Watch. The difference is Apple Watch could deliver event or monitor-driven, ultra-personalized medical data to you, your doctor, to another system that evaluates and adjusts treatment to meet changing circumstances, or to emergency contacts if you are incapacitated. The responsibility for reporting new or changed medical conditions will shift from the patient to an automatic reporting system, assuring more frequent and more accurate data. The result will be better and less costly healthcare.

Cost is a major factor in healthcare. The cost of healthcare in the U.S. today is $2.8 trillion a year and growing. Economic experts have predicted that unless healthcare costs can be brought under control, they will be unsustainable. Monitoring lifestyle choices and people with healthcare risks could help hold down the growth of healthcare costs. An overweight and out-of-shape population has led to most of the 21st century maladies like heart disease, diabetes and other medical problems that are expensive to treat and lead to poor quality of life.

The deadliest disease in the world and the U.S. is coronary artery disease. In the U.S., 26.6 million people suffer from heart disease. Many people die of “silent heart attacks” and others from first-time cardiac events. Fast reporting and response is crucial to minimizing damage and saving lives. More than 10% of people with heart attacks have another attack within three years and 14% of them die.

Hospital networks like HCA Holdings, Inc. (HCA) which is committed to high-quality care and holding down cost, send many heart attack patients home with halter monitors a few days after a heart attack, but the patient is responsible for reporting results to a healthcare professional. Wearable technology could become a much more powerful tool for patients with continual heart rate and blood pressure monitoring that would automatically report anomalies to a diagnostic center or an emergency service could become a powerful tool in monitoring heart attack patients once they get home, quickly detecting cardiac events and immediately responding to them. It could provide doctors with more precise information about the patient and immediately summon an ambulance if there is a life-threatening cardiac event. The device could be especially beneficial in monitoring patients who have just been released from the hospital after suffering from a heart attack.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 29 million people in the U.S. have diabetes. Each of them needs to monitor their blood sugar level several times a day to keep it within the normal range. Too much blood sugar can lead to heart attacks, blindness, limb amputations and other gruesome outcomes. Today, Aetna, Inc. (AET), the fourth largest insurance company in the U.S. with 23.5 million medical members and 2014 revenue of $58 billion, considers continuous glucose monitoring experimental under several circumstances. Devices like the Apple Watch could consume the large-scale sales of glucose sensors and consumables, radically changing the status quo. By continuously monitoring blood sugar and warning both the patient and caregivers of the need to adjust diet and exercise or medication, morbidity and mortality from diabetes could be reduced.

End-stage kidney disease is another expensive and growing malady in the U.S. As of 2010, close to 400,000 people were receiving dialysis, which for most requires three trips a week to a dialysis center for a four-hour stay. Such treatment is necessary to save lives, but it is expensive, negatively affects quality of life abd poses harsh side effects. DaVita HealthCare Partners, Inc. (DVA) is a leading provider of dialysis services with 2,152 outpatient dialysis centers in the U.S. serving approximately 170,000 patients. Development of a remote monitor for kidney patients through a wearable like the Apple Watch could reduce the frequency of emergencies, improve patients’ quality of life and potentially extend life expectancy.

The applications of the Apple Watch and other wearable computing systems seem limitless. It is difficult to imagine at this time what applications creative minds and the needs of society will cause to be created by the Apple Watch or other smart watch devices. What is certain is that wearable technology, especially in the realm of health monitoring, could have significant impact on maintaining good health, intervening in emergencies, monitoring chronic conditions and potentially holding down the overall cost of healthcare. This will become especially so as companies like HCA, Aetna, and DaVita HealthCare begin to develop their own apps for their clients on the Apple Watch.

The potential for early adopters to embrace the Apple Watch is often compared to Google Glass. But Google Glass was ahead of its time and had limited apps to give it broad functionality and mass appeal. The wristwatch also lends itself to re-purposing the engineering and functionality of the smartphone much better than eye wear ever did. And now that Apple has entered the wearables market, the company’s focus will be to design and engineer even better components and technologies specific to the wristwatch form factor. We will see future generations of Apple Watches that are even more sophisticated and revolutionary, allowing them to become more integrated in our lives. Over time even larger Apple products will benefit from what Apple learns through its watch product line.

What I do know about healthcare technology is there is no such a thing as a smooth path to adoption. In fact, the greatest impediment to the acceptance of the Apple Watch into healthcare will be the general inertia that is an institutionalized hallmark of the industry. Part of the answer to this obstacle will lie in exactly how deeply Apple plans to participate in the healthcare market. The fact that Apple is targeting a health conscious consumer with its sports product line is a good sign that the company has plans for greater commitment to health and fitness. Because of the many other bumps in the road it’s likely to encounter with its watch, however, it will probably be some time before we see the pundits acknowledge that this is more than a technological accessory. The final reality is that the Apple Watch must succeed as a general product long before we will see it being handed out to patients in a clinical trial. In the meantime it will be interesting to see the evolution of the Apple Watch as it realizes its full potential.