HealthKit and the Health app: A game-changer for doctors?

HealthKit and the Health app: A game changer for doctors?

Several months ago I wrote about how Apple’s upcoming health app had the potential to change public health and could force physicians to adopt mobile.

Recently at WWDC Apple affirmed the rumors when announcing iOS 8, stating the new operating system would have a Health app, and a cloud platform HealthKit.

HealthKit is the developer platform and will be able to collect/aggregate  information from a variety of approved third party devices and apps. This information will then be fed into the user’s Health app. The Health app is what patient’s will see, and promises to keep a constant track of key health metrics.

When Apple made the announcement at WWDC, they gave an example of a third party blood pressure tracking device connecting to a patient’s Health app via the HealthKit platform to store their blood pressure reading. If your blood pressure reading is high, Apple stated that your physician would be notified. Apple went on to say they are working closely with the Mayo Clinic to make this type of interaction a reality.

In the article I wrote months ago, I ended with the following conclusion:

In one fell swoop, Apple has the ability to add a comprehensive uniform health tracking app to tens of millions of iOS devices. This could give us the opportunity to change patient behavior in a way never thought imaginable before.

I wrote how physicians would be forced to understand how mobile apps can be used to improve health because for the first time there would be a uniform mobile platform for tracking health metrics in a meticulous way.

So what does this mean for physicians? There are two main takeaways:

1. Patients will be sharing more information with you. My fellow physicians need to understand that more patients are going to be showing them their smartphones and the health metrics they are tracking, and physicians are going to need to understand how to utilize this data to improve patient health. For the part about understanding how to utilize these apps, iMedicalApps will obviously be here to show you.

2. You have the ability to empower patients like never before. I prescribe health apps to my patients all the time in the ER. Many of the health apps I prescribe are related to weight loss. I encourage patients to download pedometer apps, especially to iPhone 5s users due its M7 activity sensor.

Usually I have to show patients how to use the app, and I’m no longer surprised when they don’t even know how to download new apps to their phone — but understand how to use the email and texting capabilities of their phones. Because the health app is a native app, you are assured a patient with an iPhone (running iOS 8) will have the ability to track key health metrics. You can use this ability to empower the patient to be a co-manger in their disease pathology, and give them more ownership of their health.

One point needs to be very clear: We’re still in the early stages of HealthKit and the Health app. For these apps to work and truly make a difference from a public health standpoint, we need to see a lot more in terms of the health care partnerships Apple will make, the type of scrutiny Apple will apply to third party apps, and how much of a silo Apple will end up being with the metrics they collect. I thought it was laughable when Apple said there were too many silos of health data and HealthKit would help reduce this. The only silo Apple is happy with is its own — but with hundreds of millions of iOS devices sold, that’s one heck of a silo.

Iltifat Husain is founder and editor, iMedicalApps.com, where this article originally appeared.  He can be reached on Twitter @IltifatMD.

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  • http://www.myheartsisters.org/ Carolyn Thomas

    A pedometer app that physicians need to spend time training patients who don’t know how to download an app? Why not just a regular old pedometer that simply clips onto a belt? I’ve been using the same tiny pedometer that I got (free) at Mayo Clinic six years ago – with not so much as a battery change. I don’t own an iPhone 5 (or any iPhone, or any smartphone of any type) so my little pedometer seems to work just fine every day.

    And I’m curious about how docs who already face an impossible daily time crunch feel about being “notified” via their smartphones every time one of their many patients has a BP blip 24/7?

    • SteveCaley

      Blood pressures over time will follow a statistical distribution function, which MAY OR MAY NOT follow the normal (Gaussian) distribution. But they will occasion variations during normal daily activity, and demonstrate changes based on all sorts of parameters. Blood pressure is merely the pressure at which it takes to cause the supply of blood to equal demand. There are millions of contributing factors to the blood pressure.
      So, during the course of a day, one person may have a reading of 180/100, and this is dutifully sent off to the primary care physician. What is the primary care physician to do with this hot potato? Send everyone to the ER when the HealthKit passes the buck to the doctor?
      eHealth toys threaten to increase the COST OF MEDICINE massively. They offer fragments of data that could be potentially concerning. The only way to address them is to send the patient for care.
      “OK you’re saying to ignore the 180/100?” No. But once you find it, you have to act on it, no?

  • SteveCaley

    I hate to rain on such a fun parade. The cart ought not lead the horse, though. There is a capacity for a portable little computer to generate data, that is for sure. But who wants it?

    Here is a listing of my heart rate gathered over the last 24 hours:

    114, 93, 99, 106, 99, 103, 66, 82, 81, 103, 112, 101, 97, 123, 72, 106, 98, 98, 69, 61, 81, 123, 105, 120, 74, 94, 106, 115, 73, 107, 72, 80, 67, 104, 125, 113, 125, 80, 83, 95, 80, 116, 62, 105, 106, 123, 108, 83, 116, 93, 96, 69, 107, 79, 65, 124, 62, 107, 79, 78, 85, 101, 123, 114, 123, 96, 106, 82, 117, 107, 65, 68, 108, 97, 86, 65, 103, 109, 121, 70, 82, 119, 83, 73, 95, 75, 123, 85, 121, 124, 99, 83, 61, 82, 97, 77, 79, 69, 69, 104, 110, 117, 119, 121, 95, 84, 110, 89, 70, 77, 99, 99, 108, 75, 108, 123, 69, 73, 125, 124, 76, 80, 121, 102, 96, 98, 116, 123, 116, 86, 99, 86, 107, 85, 88, 124, 80, 124, 69, 63, 90, 106, 99, 106, 125, 97, 119, 74, 71, 95, 106, 82, 87, 107, 80, 74, 91, 74, 92, 62, 125, 72, 64, 107, 79, 119, 90, 106, 98, 108, 118, 73, 101, 116, 93, 69, 86, 98, 85, 103, 61, 80, 63, 115, 84, 78, 62, 73, 69, 81, 74, 67, 88, 121, 81, 104, 109, 123, 66, 99, 76, 80, 104, 107, 86, 83, 125, 78, 70, 76, 118, 66, 124, 113, 115, 110, 112, 75, 64, 112, 80, 65, 65, 117, 101, 118, 97, 106, 103, 124, 70, 102, 78, 105, 83, 89, 102, 81, 114, 110, 99, 70, 115, 113, 116, 107, 103, 110, 72, 123, 95, 67, 75, 75, 105, 77, 81, 113, 122, 93, 61, 96, 95, 74, 97, 61, 124, 96, 99, 91, 112, 93, 106, 78, 121, 97, 123, 88, 87, 76, 80, 123, 114,
    82, 61, 115, 84, 93, 113, 77, 70, 94, 116, 114, 73, 89, 92, 122, 102, 75, 124, 110, 64, 98, 124, 95, 72, 79, 104, 95, 88, 73, 121, 95, 90, 82, 69, 90, 96, 83, 72, 100, 62, 69, 77, 61, 102, 108, 106, 92, 116, 62, 75, 100, 118, 78, 122, 110, 119, 115, 113, 88, 68, 111, 95, 101, 97, 108, 64, 74, 85, 82, 107, 93, 106, 62, 81, 95, 103, 65, 81, 123, 98, 114, 86, 95, 84, 109, 70, 110, 122, 103, 75, 74, 118, 80, 65, 67, 98, 107, 123, 79, 101, 83, 100, 86, 71, 125, 105, 71, 123, 61, 116, 77, 82, 67, 74, 94, 72.
    Now that is damn fine data – nobody can argue against it.
    What benefit might derive from my sending that to my primary care provider?
    We have lost the concept of logical positivism in medical science, that data has no meaning without having been sought, and prior criteria for testing having been established. Spontaneous flows of data, that is unsought and trivial, causes more harm than good.

    • Chiked

      Heart rates may not be a good example as they are so many variables. But my mum has diabetes and if an app were able to gather more data points on her blood sugar levels during the day, I am sure that would be helpful. The same can probably be said about her sleep or how much physical activity she truly is involved in during day.

      • SteveCaley

        I’d ask, to inform WHOM of WHAT? To the patient or the provider?
        Facts only provide useful information when they are selected carefully a priori. Ingestion of a certain quantity of carbohydrates, and knowing what amount of carbohydrate is in the food you ingest, is helpful to know. Finding out what the hourly blood sugar is for overindulgence, is not.