FORTUNE -- I was reading up on wireless pulse oximetry over the weekend when it occurred to me that we might be looking at Apple's (AAPL) so-called iWatch project from the wrong angle.
Because CEO Tim Cook is a health nut who hits the treadmill every morning, wears a Nike Fuel Band and sits on Nike's (NKE) board of directors, everybody seems to assume that Apple's target demographic for this thing -- whatever it is -- would be people like Cook: Tech enthusiasts who don't like to miss text messages and who work out seriously enough to care about monitoring their heart rate.
But what if that's a secondary target? What if the more important market -- the one that's ripe for disruption and big enough to warrant Apple's attention -- is people for whom things like pulse oximetry are a matter of life and death? People whose health costs are on a trajectory to bankrupt the U.S.?
Pulse oximeters are those little plastic clamps that a nurse or anesthesiologist will stick on your finger tip just before you go under. They're widely used in hospitals, doctors offices, ambulances and nursing homes to monitor heart and lung activity, and a lively market has sprung up in the last few years for low-cost consumer versions. Amazon (AMZN) sells several dozen models in their Health & Personal Care section. They start at $19.99; the Masimo ISPO2, which plugs right into an iPhone, goes for $150.
According to a report in Friday's New York Times, Masimo's (MASI) former medical director Michael O'Reilly -- who now works for Apple -- was one of the executives from Cupertino who met with high level FDA officials in mid December to discuss mobile medical applications.
"iWatch is said to be able to monitor several other pieces of health and fitness data," he added, but couldn't be more specific. As Tim Cook put it at the last AllThingsD: "The whole sensor field is going to explode."
"Recent advances in embedded computing systems," reports Harvard's NSF-funded team CodeBlue, "have led to the emergence of wireless sensor networks, consisting of small, battery-powered 'motes' with limited computation and radio communication capabilities... This technology has the potential to impact the delivery and study of resuscitative care by allowing vital signs to be automatically collected and fully integrated into the patient care record and used for real-time triage, correlation with hospital records, and long-term observation."
Real-time triage. Long-term observation. Correlation with hospital records. With the baby boom generation about to move en masse into government-subsidized health insurance programs, nursing homes and hospice care, those are serious growth markets. And if a generation of young, healthy joggers could be trained to watch for trouble signs before -- not after -- they get sick, we'd all be better off.
"There are a lot of problems to solve in this space," Cook said last May. "It's ripe for exploration."
Smart design has revolutionized everything from electronics to aircraft. A team of architects and designers think it can do the same for health care.
By Clay Dillow
FORTUNE -- There's very little that's sexy about the health care industry. Within the tangled threads connecting government regulation, opaque insurance policies, and the actual work of patient care itself, there's not a lot of room for glitz or style, and certainly very little MOREJul 31, 2013 10:54 AM ET
One field still counts on them.
By Verne Kopytoff
FORTUNE -- Pagers seemed like a fabulous invention in the years before mobile phones. To reach someone, all you had to do was call their number, enter your contact information, and hit the pound sign to send. The pager's owner, alerted by a symphony of beeping, would then return the call. Mobile phones, of course, eventually drove the technology to near-extinction.
But pagers, MOREJul 16, 2013 11:19 AM ET
Mary Jo Gorman's Advanced ICU Care uses tech to transform health care.
By Dinah Eng
FORTUNE -- Mary Jo Gorman is a medical doctor in St. Louis, but she would fit right in at a software startup in Silicon Valley. Gorman, 53, has successfully launched three companies; her latest venture, Advanced ICU Care, uses technology to remotely diagnose and monitor patients in intensive care units around the country -- a groundbreaking service MOREMar 27, 2013 9:09 AM ET
The appointment-booking tool is quietly ushering the technophobic medical profession into the digital era.
By Alex Konrad, reporter
FORTUNE -- Physicians love gadgets and technology as much as anyone, but you'd never know it from the way many of them manage their medical practices. Shelves groan with patient files. Plenty of doctors still write out prescriptions. And patients can spend an eternity on hold waiting to book appointments by phone.
ZocDoc, a four-year-old tech MOREOct 31, 2011 5:00 AM ET
|Michaels hack hit 3 million|
|Wealthy investors flock to fine art funds|
|GM's recalled Cobalt was a failure from the start|
|Stocks end week up over 2%|
|Detroit pension cuts hit civilian workers hardest|