The Doctor Will Track You Now: Apple Is Reportedly Using iPhones, HealthKit To Get Patient Data

Author

Dan Diamond, Contributor

February 5, 2015

An Apple relay will keep your doctor’s fears allayed.

That’s the plan, at least, behind the company’s growing health care strategy: To use the Apple HealthKit platform to collect real-time data from iPhones, the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch, and other devices — and connect it to hospitals, doctors, and your electronic medical records.

More than a dozen top hospitals already are piloting Apple’s HealthKit software, Christina Farr reported Thursday in an exclusive for Reuters.

This isn’t a surprise. Five months ago, details leaked that Mayo Clinic had teamed up to test several health care applications for the iPhone, such as a service to alert patients when their Apple apps detected abnormal health results, and help schedule them for follow-up visits.

Also See: Apple and Mayo Clinic’s Partnership Could Be Smart Medicine

And at the September debut for the iPhone 6, Apple officials said that they’d struck partnerships with a number of other top hospitals, like Stanford University Hospital and Duke University.

The two medical centers last year began helping Apple test whether chronically ill patients could use HealthKit to remotely track and manage their symptoms.

A similar trial is now underway at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, where providers are seeing if HealthKit can help several hundred patients control their blood pressure. The patients use sensors and other devices to remotely measure their blood pressure and other clinical indicators, and send the data to Apple phones and tablets through HealthKit.

Ochsner also has launched what it’s calling the “O Bar” — the hospital’s version of Apple’s Genius Bar — to help patients pick between different health and fitness apps for their iPhones, and teach them how to use them.

Are Apple’s Rivals Playing Catch-Up?

What is surprising is how far ahead Apple is compared to purported rivals, Google and Samsung.

According to Farr, Google has developers working on applications for its Google Fit service, but hasn’t appeared to make major inroads among the top hospitals yet. Samsung’s own health care platform also has lagged Apple HealthKit on both hype and deal-making.

The market potential for these companies is significant, to say the least: The U.S. spends about $3 trillion each year on health care, and all the incentives are pushing hospitals and doctors to get better at remotely managing patients’ symptoms.

Being able to see real-time data for chronically ill Americans could offer significant financial and clinical benefits. For instance, tracking their health and fitness could encourage positive behaviors that reduce the cost of doctor visits and other treatments. And doctors could use the data to be proactive when a person’s health appears to be taking a turn for the worse.

There are several major hurdles before realizing that vision, however.

For example, Apple appears to have pinned some of its health care-hopes on the Apple Watch, which launches in April. But early indications suggest that the device’s initial applications for health care may be limited; based on current reports, there’s very little chance that the Watch will come with a breakthrough technology, like a built-in glucose monitor.

(However, the Watch may display updates from a separate glucose monitor, per this demonstration last month.)

If Apple Watch can’t add much unique health care value, it may face a practical problem: Regardless of how cool the technology is, most Americans end up abandoning their wristbands and other smart-tech wearables.

Also See: Apple Watch Is Cool. It’s Different. And It’s Disappointing For Healthcare.

And simply introducing new data streams isn’t so simple in health care. Hospitals already are juggling the pressure of protecting patients’ medical information, with hackers constantly trying to penetrate their systems, while trying to identify and organize the data that they do need.

“This is a whole new data source that we don’t understand the integrity of yet,” according to William Hanson, chief medical information officer at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

So unlike the launch of the iPad — where Apple essentially redefined the tablet computer market overnight — the company will almost certainly need months or years to fully realize its health care strategy.

“There are unrealistic expectations for when and how mobile health is going to come together,” Patty Mechael, former executive director of the mHealth Alliance, told the MIT Technology Review last summer. “We are somewhere between the peak of the hype cycle and the trough of disillusionment,” she added.

Of course, Apple may defy the odds. For one, it’s Apple — the company can create buzz by simply posting a job opening. More than 600 developers are already integrating HealthKit into their health and fitness apps, helping ensure that Apple’s new software is already becoming an industry standard.

That kind of scale and momentum is the key reason why Apple stands apart.

John Halamka, the chief information officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an informal adviser to Apple, told Reuters that many patients at his hospital already use Jawbone trackers and other devices to collect personal health and fitness data.

“Can I interface to every possible device that every patient uses?” Halamka asked ruefully. “No.”

“But Apple can.”

Follow @ddiamond

From the archives:

This article was written by Dan Diamond from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Great ! Thanks for your subscription !

You will soon receive the first Content Loop Newsletter