It was an exciting day for Apple yesterday with the unveiling of two new iPhones, a brand new device (notably the Apple Watch), and not to mention a new and innovative payment system known as Apple Pay which seems set to rival both PayPal and Google Wallet. As if this wasn’t enough Apple also revealed their much anticipated “Healthkit”, a state of the art suite of programs which stores personal health data.
By harnessing the innovative technology of portable monitoring devices it has never been so easy to collect and analyze health related data such as blood pressure and heart rate as evidenced on the Amazon web site.
So what has Apple brought to the table that sets it apart from its competitors? Assimilation that’s what;, up until now this type of data was stored in separate islands of containment; but Apple’s new health app has changed all of that. Health data can now be seamlessly aggregated into a single composite snapshot which reflects an individual’s overall health status.
Much of Apple’s success in achieving this can be attributed to the proprietary approach it uses in combining its software and hardware to produce a system which is more tightly coupled than say rival Android. Both systems have their pros and cons of course, for example Android due to its openness has the ability to run on a more diverse set of hardware devices in contrast to Apple’s software, however this comes at a cost since open systems tend to be less cohesive and more fragmented than their proprietary counterparts.
The closed approach on the other hand affords a greater degree of homogeneity allowing developers to create software which can adhere more easily to the standards imposed upon it, hence facilitating deeper integration. Before discussing how Apple’s new health app interfaces with third party apps, let’s first take a brief look at its core components.
Healthkit is essentially a repository for four attributes of health related data, namely heart rate, weight, sleep and blood pressure respectively. A newly created app known simply as Health interfaces with the Healthkit data in order to monitor a person’s state of health.
In addition to the Health app Apple has also opened up Healthkit to third party organizations, ‘for example the Mayo Clinic app is able to interface with Healthkit data stored on your Apple device and determine whether it falls within a set of safety parameters defined for the individual in question. Should the app detect anything untoward it can automatically alert the user’s primary healthcare provider, thus enabling a more timely communication between doctor and patient.
In addition to the Mayo Clinic, app, Apple is also in partnership with other third party software products such as the Nike app which uses the Healthkit data to help individuals in achieving their personal fitness goals. Apple has also named Epic Systems as a partner; a company which provides medical software to hospitals and large medical institutions.
Doubtless there will be other partnerships down the road; who knows this exciting new age of opportunity could even bring arch rivals Apple and Google together, consider Google’s recently patented blood sugar monitoring technology which is integrated into a contact lens. The potential of an Apple/Google partnership whereby Google’s blood sugar data is transferred to an Apple device would provide a welcome and valuable addition to the Healthkit for millions of diabetics.
Yet, as with any type of new cutting edge technology it is all too easy for us to allow ourselves to be consumed by the sheer excitement of the possibilities presented to us while failing to consider the drawbacks. However,, as with any other app or computer program that stores and transfers personal data we need to concern ourselves with the issue of data security.
Due to the ultra-sensitive nature of medical data it is paramount that people feel secure in surrendering their data to the care and protection of an app such as Apple’s Health offering. Apple seems to understand this; the technology giant recently issued a stern warning to all of its third party developers about not sharing any of the data they receive from Healthkit, Unfortunately though; two days later it was revealed that Apple’s iCloud had been hacked, giving unauthorized access to another type of embarrassingly sensitive data.
Just as we expect Banks to keep our data safe, we will impose theses same expectations on hospitals and other medical institutions. If we can’t place enough faith in these agents though, we won’t be utilizing this type of technology at all and hence we will miss out on all of its advantages It is therefore up to Apple and its competitors to bring us strong assurances that every measure possible will be taken to ensure that our personal data will be kept secure and confidential.
Despite these misgivings the health industry looks set to enter successfully into a new and exciting era of sensory technology, bringing with it the potential to store and convey timely and accurate personal health data to all the appropriate parties. Apple has set the bar high for its competitors, through its smart Apple Watch and Healthkit app it has opened up the door to endless possibilities while changing the direction of healthcare apps forever, just how Google and the rest of the competition respond to this innovation remains to be seen.