Wouldn’t it be nice to have an app that gives you a quick snapshot of your health—a central hub that pulls data from all of your favorite health-related apps and shares it with your physician or dietician? Well, your dream is a few short months away from reality thanks to Apple’s new Health app for iOS 8.
Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi introduced the new iPhone app at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 2, 2014, and people are already taking to the internet to share their mixed opinions. In case you missed Federighi’s presentation, let’s review what the Health app can do.
Recap of the Health App
Apple’s new Health app collects data from third-party applications, displaying metrics such as your heart rate, cholesterol level, and blood pressure all within the same application. All of the information stored within your Health app can be shared with anyone you choose including your doctor.
Additionally, Apple has also created a new software development kit (SDK) called HealthKit, a program for developers that makes all of your health and fitness apps communicate together. With HealthKit, developers can create tools that allow you to track abnormal readings in your Health app and then subsequently notify your doctor. For example, if your blood pressure is beyond the normal level, then HealthKit will notify your physician of the results so you can receive more timely care.
The app also features an emergency card that displays basic medical information (e.g. allergies, prescribed medications, and existing medical conditions) even when the screen is locked. So if there’s an emergency—say, for instance, you become unconscious—a doctor can bypass your phone passcode and instantly know that you’re allergic to penicillin because of your emergency card.
Sounds cutting-edge, right?
Some physicians believe these new apps and tools will be extremely helpful—and not just for users, but for hospitals as well.
Could the Health App Solve a Major Healthcare Problem?
One of the biggest concerns in our current healthcare system is the inability to streamline patient data across various electronic medical record (EMR) systems. Because not all EMRs are compatible, doctors are forced to send sensitive medical information via fax from one care center to another. Between lost faxes, delayed responses, and “grainy” paper scans, retrieving patient information can be difficult.
With HealthKit, however, doctors are optimistic that technology is moving towards a cloud-based EMR—an opportunity in which patients can have mobile access to their medical records and the option to instantly share that information with their doctor. This could eliminate a communication barrier between different EMRs and improve healthcare efficiency.
“It has tremendous potential,” says Jae Won Joh, an Emergency Room doctor in training. “I feel that HealthKit might well be the first step in creating something akin to a universal EMR.”
Skeptics of the Health App
Not all physicians are excited about an iPhone app that can alert them anytime a patient taps their finger. In fact, some are leery it could be too intrusive.
“No doctor, no matter how dedicated, wants to know every glucose value of every patient every day, or each patient’s daily weight or blood pressure measurement,” says Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University. “Physicians barely have enough time to get their work done as it is. None of them could survive this information overload.”
Even if doctors have time to respond to every health notification, Carroll says, “Patients can be notoriously incompliant with our recommendations.”
Doctors are also concerned about accountability. Some patients become quite worried anytime there is a slight change in their health. An abnormal health reading, for example, would allow patients to alert their doctor frivolously, regardless if it’s for a serious medical concern or not. In a “boy who cried wolf” scenario, doctors could theoretically be held liable for missing an abnormal reading, especially if serious trauma or death occurs as a result.
Professor Carroll also pointed out another concern: not all patients want to share everything with their doctor. Privacy is a big deal for many—so it raises the question, “Would some users abandon the Health app if doctors badgered them every time their weight fluctuated or their cholesterol spiked?”
A New Age in Technology
Whether you’re applauding Apple’s endeavors with the Health app or you’re booing them for having thought of such an idea, one thing is for certain: we’re approaching a new era in technology. Smartphones are becoming smarter, and our reliance on them for entertainment purposes and convenience are only showing signs of increasing. We’ll just have to sit back and wait to see what happens next.