Based on open job titles, it looks like Apple is trying to expand its health-related technologies.
The number of jobs Apple has open related to health have gone from 15 around October 2017 to 75 as of January 2019, according to Joshua Fruhlinger from Thinknum, a data analytics company.
The first spike in job openings came right around the time Apple released the the Apple Watch Series 3, which boasted superior health-tracking capabilities than previous models. Another huge spike happened a year later when the Apple Watch Series 4 came out, which was the first smart watch cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration to take electrocardiograms (ECG) and alert users when they had a potentially dangerous irregular heartbeat (although it’s still not as good as your doctor).
Fruhlinger points out in a blog post that the majority of these jobs are related to developing software and hardware. It’s fair to assume that most of these new jobs are likely related to improving future generations of the watch, which may try to collect more data about personal health so that it could be shared with others, such as the wearer’s doctor.
On one hand, a watch that collects constant data on its wearers could be great for the future of health. Theoretically, a health care provider could easily download and examine data on her patients at each visit, right from their watch, instead of relying on them to correctly remember all the times they exercised or how well they have been sleeping since their last visit. It could even provide more clinical data, like ECG readouts, or the wearer’s heart rate over time.
But any data related to personal health enters the tricky realm of information privacy. Under the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, data about personal health must remain confidential and secure between a patient and her health care provider. The US Department of Health and Human Services mandates (pdf) that any third party that provides a hospital or doctor any kind of technology (like an app or watch) that “receives, maintains, or transmits protected health information” have to be HIPAA complaint. This is because “protected health information” refers to any information that could identify the patient. As such, there’s no clear-cut certification process for Apple—or any tech company, for that matter—because it depends on exactly what kind of information the app can send and receive, and with whom.
Before an Apple device of any kind were to have data-sharing capabilities with users’ health care providers, they’d have to preemptively prove that this type of data was secure and confidential. Presumably, that’s what some of these positions are intended to do.