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Will the Health Care Revolution Come from Silicon Valley?

Monday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, the company released a set of new operating system improvements that are more substantial than may meet the eye. While investors and detractors may grumble that Apple hasn’t released a revolutionary new product in a few years, the reality is that the most valuable brand in the world has continued to pioneer groundbreaking technology, and the latest announcements show why.

The mobile revolution started with devices—a market which has continued to grow, while new features are constantly introduced. However, the real opportunity for changing the way we communicate and access information has moved beyond hardware and on to the apps that collect and manage data. This was the key insight behind Google. But by dominating the device market first, Apple is uniquely positioned to bring “big data” into the personal space, where information is relevant, timely and private.

Thus, along with a set of useful new features for the consumer, Apple unveiled a whole toolbox for developers—the millions of creative minds who produce apps we never dreamed of, but now can’t live without.

One of these tools is called “HealthKit,” along with the “Health” app. There are already hundreds of fitness apps available to track calories, heart rate, sleep patterns and other statistics for the health conscious and tech savvy. Health brings all this data to one place, along with an “emergency card,” which contains important personal medical information. More importantly, HealthKit enables developers to create products that interact with this data to help users gain a thorough and accurate picture of their vitals, medicines, routines, habits, allergies, and every other kind of imaginable information. These new technologies hint at a revolution in patient care.

Tech site Engaget reports that:

The Mayo Clinic, a Minnesota nonprofit, is already working with Apple…. Health advised patients of wellness plans set by their doctors and enabled a futuristic approach to health care; where doctors and patients interact constantly, in real time, at the very least on a data level.

This may appear as some sort of high-tech Life Alert necklace. But looking forward, this kind of technology may enable warnings and diagnostics based on complex analyses of personal data. Apps could be developed that notify users of harmful habits, detect early warning signs and recommend preventative treatments, manage fulfillment of prescriptions and much more. This is about delivering faster and more accurate care, but also about shifting some of the load of the medical industry from clinics and hospitals back to homes.

[pq]If we seek to help the vulnerable, the clearest path forward is the one paved by entrepreneur-ship and innovation.[/pq]

If you saw last year’s Matt Damon film “Elysium”—and if you haven’t, consider yourself better for it—you might start to see the iPhone as a primitive version of a healing pod. The film’s miraculous machines could detect and heal any infirmity. It was a lazy concept on the part of the writers, but one thing is certain: if humanity is ever to come remotely close to such a technology, it will be because of enterprise, not presidents. It will be for-profit businesses that bring miracles to the market. Huge, complex legislation like Obamacare—written by interns, brokered by special interests, debated by politicians and managed by bureaucrats—can never match the innovative capacity of Silicon Valley. Moreover, when government takes on a mission to revolutionize an industry, it crowds out the very market activity that could lead to much more efficient and advanced solutions.

But what about the glaring inequality of access that is the nature of the market? The healing pods in “Elysium,” after all, stood at the center of a class war narrative in which great disparities of care exist. Indeed, the wealthy are best positioned to be early adopters because new technologies are always expensive—at first. When the first generation iPhone was released in 2007, the price tag was out of reach for most people. But who are today’s users? They span every demographic. What one can do with an iPhone would have been unthinkable when Clinton still occupied the White House and the cool kids were sporting beepers. Now, it is a tool for the common man, woman, or preteen.

While snapshots in time may suggest that there is always inequality in access to quality goods and services, this is only a temporary condition for most products in particular. Choose a given product, and you can see that the exact item is more accessible to the average person as time rolls along. Having acquired possessions that gained the envy of his grandfather, today’s average Joe looks yet to his wealthy neighbor and cries, “the poor get poorer!”

Most Americans are very wealthy by global standards, and it is precisely because our governments have not taken it upon themselves to design our markets and command our economies—at least, not to the extent of many other nations. The wall of separation between business and state has eroded substantially nonetheless. If we seek to deliver greater access to healthcare, education and opportunity to those most vulnerable in our society, the clearest path forward is the one paved by entrepreneurship and innovation, not an Act of Congress.