At Apple’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), the company announced their much-anticipated foray into healthcare technology with “Healthkit”, a platform technology promising to be the glue to our fragmented, increasingly data-driven health experiences. HealthKit is basically an API, a pipe capable of connecting health data collected from a third-party source, such as a wearable device or electronic medical record (EMR), to another source, such as Apple’s new user-facing app called “Health.”
This could be the most encouraging step forward in the Connected Health movement in years. The promise of finally allowing one of the most data-rich, and yet least understood aspects of our lives -- our behavior and its impact on our bodies and our health -- to be exposed to the power of “big data” is indeed exciting.
Big data ushers in an age of massive correlations in making confident health decisions, and HealthKit brings big data decision-making to the consumer. Soon, consumers will get an alert saying they’ve gone three days in a row without walking 10,000 steps, and in people with your weight, blood pressure and blood glucose levels, if you go another 10 days like this, you’ll have increased your chances at developing Type II diabetes by 14%. Connected health data will help us draw correlations between our behavior and its direct impact on our health, and with almost 30% of the world’s population obese or overweight, we need could use the help.
As with all innovations in healthcare, the speed of potential change must be countered with caution. If Facebook makes a change to its Newsfeed feature, and it breaks an ad algorithm, you might have a few angry advertisers, but nobody’s really getting hurt. That isn’t the case in healthcare. There are important regulations in place to ensure public safety. The promise of confident decision-making must be backed by the accuracy of the data and the reliance on the systems in place collecting it.
At the WWDC, Apple was very careful not to insinuate that they were getting into the business of using data to influence healthcare decisions directly. Some of the partners they mentioned, such as Mayo Clinic and the massive EHR company Epic, are already regulated, so any of their data being sent through the HealthKit pipe should already be scrutinized from a regulatory standpoint. This allows Apple to avoid having to register the HealthKit platform as a Class II medical device with the FDA (for now).
Data privacy and security will be another ongoing concern. Any time you move data from one source to another, there are inherent risks of leakage. But if the value exchange is there, consumers will eventually engage. Look at how quickly the fear of online banking went away once the convenience of the experience became clear.
To truly realize the power of Connected Health, we’ll need to overcome these barriers. For years, we’ve been mired in policy uncertainty (i.e., the Affordable Care Act) and regulatory questions (FDA’s mobile guidance), both of which have stymied investment in healthcare innovation. Now, the haze is lifting and we’re starting to see real change. HealthKit could be a real catalyst to that change. Hopefully, Epic will be just the first of many trusted EMR partners tapping into the platform, the exploding wearables market will openly embrace the new connectivity, and Mayo Clinic will be followed by other innovative healthcare providers that will find ways to connect their patients’ data meaningfully—inspiring the holy grail of healthcare—informed and inspired better human behavior.