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Apple, Inc. Nearly Got Into Medical Clinics

By Evan Niu, CFA - Updated Oct 18, 2017 at 3:52PM

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It seems plausible that Apple could still have the impact it's looking for without having to acquire or expand into medical clinics.

It's pretty clear that Apple's (AAPL 1.62%) ambitions around improving people's health are only growing. The company gave Men's Health an inside look at its testing lab earlier this year, which is loaded with expensive measurement equipment that allows it to collect copious amounts of data. Apple Director of Fitness and Health Technologies Jay Blahnik said the lab has "collected more data on activity and exercise than any other human performance study in history."

These growing efforts are the backdrop to last night's CNBC report that said Apple seriously considered getting into physical on-site medical clinics via some type of acquisition. Crossover Health and One Medical were named as potential candidates for an acquisition, but no deal was reached. Crossover Health operates on-site health and wellness centers for self-insured employers (Apple is a Crossover Health customer), while One Medical operates primary care facilities.

Person using Apple Watch on a treadmill

Image source: Apple.

Apple has been increasingly targeting corporate wellness programs to bolster Apple Watch sales over the past year or so.

Getting into medical clinics would be messy

Apple has been interested in jumping into primary care for over a year, according to the report, which could have resulted in creating a large network of primary care facilities, in addition to its network of Apple retail stores (I refuse to call them "town halls"). It's not clear if Apple is still considering such an ambitious move, as it would be a huge undertaking that would require massive investment.

The Mac maker would have to either acquire a company, or if it wanted to start from scratch, Apple would need to hire people with the necessary core competencies (Apple has no applicable experience in this sector). Then it would have to build out a physical network of clinics. There aren't very many operational similarities with retail stores, which would minimize any potential efficiencies. Health care is a very complicated sector, even in terms of basic things like pricing, and Apple would probably have to learn how to work with insurance providers and navigate potential legislative and policy reforms.

Apple should partner instead

It seems that Apple's main goal in such a possible move would be in bolstering its health data collection capabilities. Expanding into primary care would give Apple many more avenues to understand health data, as well as maybe learning new angles and deeper insights to a sector where it has historically had little presence -- and where it now wants a much larger presence.

The company is undoubtedly putting its money where its mouth is with an ongoing string of investments and partnerships in the medical community, as well as health-related hires. CEO Tim Cook cares deeply about health and fitness, and believes that Apple can use its weight to do some "good for society." However, it seems plausible that Apple could still have the impact that it's looking for without having to acquire or expand into medical clinics. Another partnership would work just fine.

Investors haven't seen the end of Apple's health-related ambitions, not by a long shot. But "Apple Clinic" doesn't really have a nice ring to it.

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