With an anticipated $2B IPO and love from Apple, digital health may finally get respect

Article Highlights

  • For the last five years or so, digital health has been the Rodney Dangerfield of investment sectors

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  • Apple is starting to take healthcare very seriously

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  • Digital health’s potential may finally be too tactile for consumers, investors, and even medical product companies to responsibly ignore

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For the last five years or so, digital health has been the Rodney Dangerfield of investment sectors, getting more attention than respect, and garnering more page views than dollars.

However, two important events reported in the last several days suggest all this may be about to change.

First, Fortune’s Dan Primack broke the news on Saturday that Castlight Health — a startup co-founded by U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park in 2008, with the intention of providing increased transparency to healthcare costs – has secretly filed an IPO; an astonishing valuation of around $2B is anticipated.   That’s both impressive growth and serious money, and suggests it’s possible to win – and win big – in digital health.

Second, two complimentary reports from last Friday collectively suggest that Apple is starting to take healthcare very seriously.

For starters, the New York Times reported that Apple executives met with the FDA in December 2013 to discuss mobile medical applications.

In addition, 9to5Mac, a website devoted to “Apple Intelligence,” claimed that the next version of the iPhone operating system, iOS8 – slated for release later this year – will introduce an application codenamed “Healthbook” that is “capable of monitoring and storing fitness statistics such as steps taken, calories burned, and miles walked,” according to 9to5Mac.  This operating system is also anticipated to facilitate integration with Apple’s rumored “iWatch,” a device expected to come equipped with an impressive range of health-monitoring capabilities.

Apple’s pursuit of health – and especially FDA-worthy products, if they materialize – has the potential to be game-changing, though a key issue, as Union Square Venture’s Fred Wilson perceptively observed, is “whether Apple will make it easy to get our data out.”

In other words, will Apple emulate Epic, a notoriously closed EMR (see hereand here) that’s earned the enmity of many (including Rock Health’s Co-Founder and CEO Halle Tecco, who pointed out at a recent, exceptional DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leader talk that the Epic systems at UCSF and Stanford apparently can’t even communicate with each other), but has built a tremendously successful product and business?  Or will Apple try to build a more open ecosystem, as championed by most other EMR vendors, who tend to celebrate interoperability but often struggle for revenue.

It’s also important to recognize that, gadgets, apps, and breathless tech headlines not withstanding, Silicon Valley hasn’t disrupted healthcare – not even close.   Disruption ultimately requires credible evidence of either improved outcomes, reduced costs, or both, yet turning information into impact is exceptionally difficult.  We should celebrate passion – but not confuse it with the progress we hope it enables.

The promise, however, is unmistakable.  Between Castlight’s anticipated $2B exit and Apple’s enthusiastic embrace, digital health’s robust potential may finally be too tactile for consumers, investors, and even medical product companies to responsibly ignore.

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David
Shaywitz

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