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Apple's Medical Hires: Big Deal or Much Ado About Nothing?

There has been a lot of buzz about Apple's foray into healthcare and reports of the company hiring "dozens" of medical doctors, but what does that actually mean for medtech?

Apple CEO Tim Cook says the Apple Watch's ECG app is just one example of the kind of contribution the company can make in the healthcare industry.

Apple Inc.

Apple has been careful to keep its future healthcare plans under wraps, but whatever it is, expect that it will be big.

“Apple has a huge opportunity in health … and I don’t want to talk about the future because I don’t want to give away what we’re doing, but this is an area of major interest to us,” CEO Tim Cook said during Apple’s earnings call in November, according to Seeking Alpha transcripts.

The ECG app recently became available to Apple Watch Series 4 customers in the United States, and U.S. customers with an Apple Watch Series 1 or later are now able to check themselves for irregular heart rhythms.

“These are unprecedented and potentially life-changing features showing how Apple Watch is not only an indispensable communication and fitness companion, but also an intelligent guardian for your health,” Cook said. “More broadly we see this as just one further example of the kind of contribution we can make in the health space, and we look forward to making more in the future.”

But the million dollar question for medtech is what role will Apple play in the industry and how will it impact traditional medical device players?

Earlier this week CNBC reported that Apple has been quietly adding dozens of medical doctors to its payroll. The company has not yet commented on the report, but it’s not necessarily a surprise, given what little we do know about the company’s interest in the medical space.

Zimmer Biomet is working with Apple to study the mymobility app’s impact on patient outcomes and overall costs of hip and knee replacement surgeries.

One analyst on Apple’s earnings call made another interesting point.

When you combine the new Apple Watch health features with the company’s staunch advocacy for privacy, “Apple could become a really large disintermediating force in all the friction in the healthcare industry today in the way medical information is shared and distributed,” said Womsi Mohan at Bank of America.

Apple isn’t the only consumer tech titan looking at opportunities in healthcare.

Amazon has been teasing the industry all year with its foray into healthcare, most recently by teaming up with Arcadia to launch an exclusive brand of consumer-use medical devices for diabetes and hypertension management.
Dubbed, the Choice Brand, Amazon’s medical device offerings will start with a range of blood glucose monitors and blood pressure monitors both with supporting mobile apps which offer measurement tracking, data mobility, and reminders.
Arcadia, a consultancy firm, has extensive experience in brand development within the diabetes and cardiovascular markets and is widely known as the original architect of Walmart’s ReliOn brand as well as Abbott’s Freestyle line of diabetes devices.

Earlier this year Amazon announced a new healthcare joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co. A couple weeks later, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon wants to become a major medical supplier, although the company had not made any public announcements to support that report at the time.

Meanwhile the company reportedly hired Taha Kass-Hout, MD, a former FDA chief health informatics officer, to serve in a business development role focusing on healthcare projects.

Amazon’s healthcare entry is similar to Google’s move into the industry in 2014. The Mountain View, CA-based company eventually restructured and its life sciences division, now called Verily, continues to penetrate the market at a rapid rate through noteworthy collaborations.

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