Apple Embraces the Best of mHealth With Healthkit
With its 2014 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) announcement last week, Apple officially entered the mobile health or “mHealth” space. Apple’s announcement centered on the launch of HealthKit, a new technology framework built into the iOS 8 operating system, and the Health app, an interface for entering, viewing and managing HealthKit data.
This POV provides details on HealthKit, the Health App, and key considerations for evaluating the opportunity to interact with Apple’s new health platform.
FIRST: WHAT MAKES A GREAT MHEALTH APP?
In considering the benefits of the HealthKit and Health app to users and to the industry, we did so within the context of Intouch’s four essential elements of a great mHealth app:
- Passive data capture — Apps must require minimum activity from the user. Passive data collection means the app is working so the user doesn’t have to. For example, proactively collecting activity data from third-party hardware — such as a FitBit — eliminates the need for users to manually enter data.
- Intrinsic motivation — Apps must provide road signs to tell the user where they are along their journey. Providing feedback that “this is working” keeps users motivated.
- Integration — Apps must integrate with other apps and devices, and they must transition from device to device — laptop, tablet, phone, etc. As pharma marketers, we must realize that, regardless of how beneficial we believe our apps to be, patients and HCPs use multiple devices and apps … and they expect mHealth to be device-agnostic.
- Social interaction and engagement — Apps must integrate with the rest of the user’s support network. Social interaction and engagement can serve as a major point of motivation for users. Sharing goals and achievement of milestones can solicit positive reinforcement from a user’s social network.
HealthKit is a new, cloud-based framework built into the iOS 8 operating system. The framework is designed to connect a multitude of apps, wearable devices and healthcare services by allowing them to share data with one another. Prior to HealthKit, apps had to be built to interface individually with other apps and devices with which they wanted to share information. The basic idea of HealthKit is that developers can now create a single interface in HealthKit and then send and receive data with other services that are also connected to it. In short, HealthKit has the potential to represent a single, uniform, standardized personal health data platform.
With its passive data collection, pharma companies will be able to leverage HealthKit to integrate crucial patient lifestyle and activity information into their apps without the user having to manually enter data or sync between applications. For example, via HealthKit, an mHealth app designed to help people living with diabetes can now easily aggregate all in one place the following data:
- Activity tracking data from a variety of activity-tracking devices, apps or wearables of the users’ choosing
- Nutrition and food consumption data from different applications
- Personal blood glucose level data from yet another third-party source
- Pharmaceutical product and prescription information and reminders
In the above scenario, we can begin to see also how HealthKit supports the concept of integration. Apple realizes that users rely on a variety of devices and apps to monitor their health and track progress toward their health and fitness goals. Apple has simply created a framework that allows these various apps and devices to share data.
As more application developers and third-party hardware manufacturers integrate with HealthKit, the data available for new and existing apps will continue to grow. Pharma companies will soon have much more user-specific data that can be integrated into patient applications.
ABOUT THE HEALTH APP
The Health app will debut on iOS 8 devices when it is publically available this fall. Simply put, Health is Apple’s interface for entering, viewing and managing data in HealthKit. Key features include:
- Dashboard — The Dashboard function will allow users to quickly review dynamic information, such as calories burned, calories consumed, heart rate, sleep, and other data captured from device sensors or third-party wearables.
- Health Data — The Health Data feature will provide access to each of the detailed data areas within the app. This may include data from external wearable devices, an electronic health record or manually entered profile data. It will provide a console where users will manage data sources and determine what data is available to each new app they install, as well as every device they connect to HealthKit.
- Medical ID — The Medical ID feature is a new service available from the device lock screen. In the event of a medical emergency, certain emergency medical information — such as blood type, medications and allergy information — can be displayed.
As data sources feed into the application, users will have the ability to track their progress toward various goals and milestones. The Health app provides the platform on which to view their mHealth feedback, providing intrinsic motivation that communicates “this is working.”
UNIQUE MHEALTH COLLABORATIONS
Apple’s digital health strategy is one based on integration and collaboration. Among mHealth apps, wearable health tech and other devices, this new ecosystem has the potential to create mutual benefits for services that choose to interact with the platform and with each other.
And Apple is setting an early example for integration and collaboration within HealthKit. At the WWDC, Apple revealed two key healthcare partnerships:
- Epic Systems, a major provider of electronic health records
- Mayo Clinic, which plans to provide a HealthKit app to consumers by September. The app will offer advanced functions, such as remote medicine and integration with Mayo EHRs
The Mayo Clinic and Epic Systems partnerships not only help legitimize and validate Apple’s position in mHealth, they demonstrate the promise of placing a patient’s fully aggregated personal health ecosystem directly into the hands of healthcare professionals.
PHARMA’S OPPORTUNITY WITHIN APPLE’S MHEALTH ECOSYSTEM
Apple has embraced a digital health strategy that reinforces the key elements of great mHealth apps. Passive data collection, ongoing feedback and impressive integration capabilities combine to open up new opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to provide valuable tools and services to consumers and healthcare professionals. (The only key element of great mHealth apps not addressed by Apple’s recent announcement is social interaction and engagement. While these features are not currently integrated into the Health app, Apple has previously integrated Twitter and Facebook into iOS. Thus, social interactions are available to third-party app developers and pharma apps when necessary.)
Soon, we will likely see a new generation of pharma apps that offer patient-specific recommendations and prescription information, based on data that flows into the app from the HealthKit framework. Pharma-specific apps will now have the ability to provide valuable, relevant, integrated information and tools to the patient without the added overhead of having to reference multiple applications. Not only can pharma apps now take advantage of data captured from other HealthKit-enabled apps, but now pharma apps can more easily send data — as appropriate — to other applications without extra development on pharma’s part. This will be especially useful as other consumer health tracking platforms build integration into HealthKit.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR APPLE MHEALTH?
Absent from the collection in Apple’s announcements was any mention of the much-anticipated iWatch. Industry insiders speculate the device will launch later this year. While the announcements of Health and HealthKit set the stage for an iWatch introduction, other mobile health and fitness applications — including those from pharmaceutical companies — are well positioned to benefit in the meantime.
mHealth news source mobi health news explained the mHealth significance of Apple’s announcement this way, “Importantly, the Health app will come preloaded on all new iOS devices and will make its way onto older iOS devices if the user makes the free upgrade to iOS8. While install base is hardly a good number for sizing up a market, moving forward every updated iOS device will have a health tracking app on it. That brings considerable awareness to digital health and it removes one of the first barriers to entry — downloading a health app. This could be huge … ”
If HealthKit delivers upon its promise, consumers of the future will expect their entire personal health data ecosystem — including any pharmaceutical product-relevant data — to be integrated into this one, handy, uniform framework. And with the scale that Apple provides and its reputation for ease of use, HealthKit could likely become the de facto mHealth platform the industry has been seeking.