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The Two Faces of HealthKit

Sarah Morgan

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Risks and Benefits of Centralized Personal-Health Data Aggregation

Apple’s recently announced HealthKit platform may be a breakthrough for the “quantified self” industry.  However, its benefit may also end up being its Achilles’ heel.

The HealthKit cloud framework built into iOS 8 will be launched in the fall of 2014 and will enable apps, wearable devices and healthcare services to share data. Developers will have the ability to build apps that can “talk” to other services connected to HealthKit.

Apple’s gift has always been their ability to integrate and collaborate with a level of strategic forethought above their peers. With HealthKit, they have already announced partnerships with Epic, an electronic medical records software company, and the Mayo Clinic that demonstrate the promise of aggregating a patient’s personal health ecosystem.

What’s game-changing about HealthKit is its potential to be a unified platform through which apps can interact, share and analyze data. The potential for predictive analysis this creates offers myriad possible benefits. It is, however, also where the risks are.

Who Can HealthKit Benefit?
Current users — “Quantified self” aficionados have, to date, been a small group of data wonks. Now, though, analytic power comes to the masses, thanks to four elements Intouch has always believed are essential to great mHealth. HealthKit will make data capture passive, make it easy for developers to provide intrinsic motivation, allow integration with other apps and devices and iOS platforms, and create social engagement for users.

Developing world — Some critics suggest that HealthKit and developments like it are “bringing coals to Newcastle” — i.e., only helping those who already have plenty. However, in the developing world, where social and technological infrastructure may be lacking, mobile phones are often transformative. They get communications, technology and healthcare to distant outposts, skipping generations of systems-building. A doctor can monitor far-flung patients far more easily with mobile technology like this.  

Providers — One of the biggest challenges healthcare providers face is their brief time with patients. They’re meant to investigate concerns and symptoms, make an accurate diagnosis, and communicate the proper way to adhere to treatment, all in a few minutes. HealthKit can give HCPs a much bigger window into their patients’ lives and give context and meaning to that brief face-to-face.

Managed care — Insurance is a game of odds, and companies know it’s a smart play to minimize health events in clients. Tools like HealthKit are invaluable, as noted in a recent Forbes article. Managed care professionals are already considering how to monitor more conditions and how to use data to set rates with greater specificity and assurance.

Employers — The link between mHealth and the insurance industry is often employers. Many offer discounts to employees who participate in programs designed to improve health. From activity and nutrition to more advanced metrics like blood pressure and glucose, prepare to see employers offering incentives for staff to track their health.

Pharma — Pharmaceutical and biotech companies are learning to become healthcare companies, not just drug makers. Many have begun creating apps for healthcare providers and patients. HealthKit presents questions about the ramifications of sharing and communicating data, but it also provides a place where pharma can learn more about users and provide solutions with more powerful benefits.

The Risks of HealthKit
Lack of medical expertise in tech experts — In announcing HealthKit, Apple accidentally used the wrong measurement for a mock-up of a glucose monitor. It’s a minor error, and only in a demo, of course, but it offers an example of what might be a big problem. Tech people know tech. They know it very, very well. App developers can speak code. Conversely, healthcare professionals know their world. If you’re joining the two in new consumer-facing ways, there are going to be hiccups. Everyone must cross-train and develop their expertise in both realms. And the companies and agencies developing these apps must be equally well-versed in both technology and healthcare. (Intouch Solutions is an example of one agency that has successfully melded the two.)

Data-privacy landmines — What are the HIPAA implications of all of this health data flying around, especially in and out of EHRs? International privacy laws will have to do some quick evolution. Privacy law hasn’t historically considered professional records and personally managed databases in the same thought, but they may need to begin. The down side of aggregated data is that, while it can provide a clear and informative picture for patients or professionals, it can do the same for marketers, data companies or hackers. As pundits have noticed, Apple hasn’t discussed data-security issues in much detail yet, including whether the data will be stored locally or in the cloud. Apple’s efforts to stay out of the strictly regulated space have also been remarked upon; can this be successful?

Crying wolf — Forbes’ Dan Munro said it best: “It’s hard not to be a tad cynical with these big announcements because they always arrive with such great fanfare ‒ and scant details.” iOS developer, registered nurse and blogger Jared Sinclair noted skeptically, “…I expect HealthKit will have little or no impact on professional healthcare delivery. I think the experimental partnerships between Apple and the companies listed during the WWDC Keynote will remain exactly that: experimental. It will take a lot more than HealthKit to make a dent in the universe of healthcare.”

There’s been a lot said. Starting in the fall, we’ll see what can actually be done.

For more information on what you need to know and consider about Apple’s HealthKit, click here for our POV.

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