Apple tested a primary healthcare subscription service with Apple doctors

Apple explored a subscription primary healthcare service with Apple doctors
Apple is best known for the iPhone and Mac, but Tim Cook believes Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind will be in health and wellness. A new report details how the Cupertino-based giant has struggled with that goal.

A subscription-based health plan with Apple doctors

Following the launch of the Apple Watch in 2015, a team of Apple employees spent months thinking about how the health and wellness data collected by the wearable could be used.

In 2016, employees came up with an “ambitious” plan to offer a subscription-based primary healthcare service that aimed to disrupt what Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams dubbed the “break fix” US healthcare system.

The service would have linked the data generated from devices like the Apple Watch with in-person care provided by so-called “Apple doctors,” therefore offering customers both primary care and continuous health monitoring.

Internal documents suggest Apple’s end goal was to franchise the model to health systems and other countries, but only if it could improve people’s health and lower costs at the same time.

Apple is piloting the service on its employees in California

Apple was so serious about its healthcare subscription efforts that it piloted the service on its own employees by taking over the health clinics near its headquarters, which until then were being run by a startup.

People familiar with the plan claim the test was given the codename ‘Casper’ and run by Dr. Sumbul Desai, who Apple hired in 2017 for the project. The pilot continues today but making any meaningful progress has been a struggle.

One of Apple’s most recent efforts related to Casper is a digital health app called HealthHabit that launched around six months ago and is being piloted with a group of California-based Apple employees.

However, documents related to the app and people familiar with the matter say it has struggled with low engagement. In fact, of the employees who downloaded it in May, half hadn’t even enrolled.

The aim of HealthHabit is to encourage people to set health challenges and lets them connect with clinicians via an in-app chat. It also focuses on serving people with hypertension, who can connect with health coaches via the app.

Concerns have been expressed about the reliability of data, however

According to today’s report, Apple employees have also expressed concerns about the accuracy of the data being used. The low engagement of HealthHabit has made this a topic of discussion in recent months, but it’s not the first time.

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Following a 2019 meeting in which a manager raised questions about the data, it’s reported that Dr. Desai responded angrily. Employees concluded that critical questions were unwelcome, and the manager left Apple soon after.

In response to the allegations, an Apple spokesperson said the matter was “was investigated thoroughly and the allegations could not be substantiated.” The spokesperson also said, “many of the assertions in this report are based on incomplete, outdated and inaccurate information.”

In the meantime, Apple's focus is selling devices

Ultimately, only time will tell what comes of the Casper pilot and whether Apple presses ahead with a subscription-based primary healthcare plan. But in the meantime, the company continues to be focused on selling devices.

A recent report revealed that Apple is planning to add a body temperature sensor to the Apple Watch Series 8 in 2022. The brand is also researching a blood-sugar monitor for the Apple Watch, though this feature is several years away.

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