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Will Apple’s Employee Healthcare Centers Succeed?

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Apple doesn’t do anything small. So when the Cupertino-based company announced that it’s opening two primary care clinics for employees and their families this spring, attention was paid.

The clinics are called AC Wellness, and one is on the new “spaceship campus,” Apple Park. The goal is to offer “compassionate, effective healthcare,” according to the AC Wellness site.

But the effects of these clinics could be far-reaching.

Many companies have had difficulty reining in healthcare costs for their employees.

Apple, already a player in improving people’s health using transformative technologies such as its Apple Watch and iPhone apps, could be a game changer in the workforce, say experts.

Other companies are also trying to crack the complex, highly lucrative healthcare industry. Amazon recently teamed with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to form an independent health company offering affordable healthcare to employees.

Apple is also notoriously tight-lipped about any of its new forays, including AC Wellness.

However, the website is advertising for healthcare practitioners, including primary care physicians, clinical exercise coaches, care navigators, and health partners. Behavioral health, which also eludes companies, is also a target.

“Healthcare is so complicated,” Sharoni Billik, founder of the medical affairs firm SBHC, told Healthline. “But big tech companies bring an entrepreneurial approach. I’m optimistic that Apple brings the right muscle and brain power.”

Wellness programs are key

Besides controlling its own healthcare costs, Apple has a lot to gain on other fronts from its clinics, say experts.

Employers are struggling to put a lid on spiraling healthcare costs. These costs are going up 5 percent to 10 percent per year, according to Daniel Farris, chair of the technology group at Fox Rothschild.

They also serve a big chunk of the market — some 151 million Americans.

In addition, employers are offering more complete employee coverage, such as health and wellness programs that can save money on care further down the road.

“Apple sees an opportunity to improve health outcomes and wellness,” Farris told Healthline. “And it could better control costs than relying on the insurance industry.”

Solving the wellness part alone is no easy feat though, said Leah Binder, president and chief executive officer of the Leapfrog Group.

Almost every company wellness program has failed, she told Healthline, and getting employees to use the programs is daunting.

“Employees don’t trust you,” she said. “They think you’re trying to control them.”

Yet wellness programs are a key part of the healthcare puzzle. Preventing health problems can save employers big bucks.

Health problems reduced worker productivity and cost the economy $260 billion last year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For Apple, increasing worker productivity by offering on-site clinics could be another plus.

“Employees don’t have to take the whole day off,” explained Binder.

Apple’s employees as a whole give the company a leg up in the digital health race, since they’re good wellness candidates, experts say.

They’re sophisticated about the use of technology, explained Farris. For its part, Apple can also offer more innovative wellness programs such as those that promote stress relief.

In general, Apple is no stranger to healthcare technology.

On its iPhone Health app, users can see their own medical records from multiple medical providers. Up until now, sharing medical information has been challenging.

Apple also has other tricks up its sleeve.

The company recently partnered with Stanford University for its Apple Heart Study, which will see if the Apple Watch can detect irregular heart rhythms before they cause more serious heart issues.

Tech can’t fix everything

The upshot is that Apple clinics could be safe places to try new programs and test technology with employees, said Billik.

“They need to keep product development close to the cuff. They will protect intellectual property.”

The AC Wellness site gives a clue to Apple intentions by stating that the clinics are an “environment of continuous learning and teamwork.”

Despite its digital firepower, Apple could run across problems.

Expecting to fix healthcare problems using only technology can be dangerous, said Farris.

“Healthcare issues are big and complex,” he noted.

Privacy can also be an issue. The clinics could feel Big Brother-ish, said Farris.

“And there are privacy and employee benefits that have to be complied with,” he added.

Ultimately, Apple is dealing with a specific demographic of early technology adopters who are highly paid.

Outside Silicon Valley, technology adoption is sometimes tricky. So new innovations that do well with Apple employees may not flourish at other companies.

Still, healthcare is a huge market that needs someone to come in and change how things are done, concluded Billik.

Apple might just be the one.

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Will Apple’s Employee Healthcare Centers Succeed?