Should an Apple a Day Keep Doctors Away?

How healthcare leaders are reacting to the tech giant’s stated but little-noticed intent to move into their industry.


These days Apple’s aficionados are full of questions: How good can the new iPhone 8’s camera be? How does the iPhone X’s facial recognition feature work? What can the new Apple Watch do?

But after hearing just one sentence from Apple’s boss, another group—healthcare industry leaders—has a considerably different question on their minds: How do I handle Apple’s attempts to upend my world?

During a recent interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook mentioned that “healthcare is a big area for Apple’s future.” On one level, this shouldn’t be surprising. Healthcare is a gigantic market, among the largest components in our economy, and in the US, it comprises nearly 20 percent of the country’s nation’s gross domestic product. It’s also an industry facing tremendous change and uncertainty. As they say in Silicon Valley, it’s ripe for disruption.

While Apple has plenty of experience with disruption, it has had little experience in healthcare. Yet this, according to Tom Flannery, a senior client partner for Korn Ferry Hay Group Executive Pay & Governance practice, is precisely why Apple may have an advantage over well-heeled, well-positioned, and deep-pocketed competitors.  “The future is all about innovation, and companies that can continuously innovate will dominate,” Flannery says. “Apple continually refreshes itself. That’s very difficult to do.”

Apple may have another advantage over other companies operating in the healthcare sector. It develops both hardware and software, ensuring—in theory—that everything could work together seamlessly. As healthcare, along with most other industries, transitions to the Internet of Things, where all manner of devices will be interconnected, Apple will be one of the few that builds every product with interoperability in mind.

Flannery says that the key to all of this is data to support decision-making, tracking patient quality outcomes and the use of household devices like the Apple Watch in furthering users’ wellness.

To be sure, the company still has many obstacles. Flannery provides a tantalizing vision of what this futuristic healthcare might look like. Say a nurse has to locate an IV bag; that’s an inventory issue.  She could use an Apple device to record the removal of that unit. That record is shared with a central warehouse that tracks supply. Then it taps into the patient’s record to record that, as well. Then it goes into inventory system that manages how many units of saline solution available. Then they have standing orders to replenish once stocks are low via supply vendor or manufacturer.

“By having a system to manage all of this inventory, you can remove a slew of middlemen,” Flannery says.