After a bumpy launch, Apple is now busy integrating their HealthKit platform with hospitals and multiple health and wellness apps to aggregate disparate health data. HealthKit aims to connect patients and doctors through data sharing between iPhone apps and medical devices (blood pressure monitors, glucometers), and wearables (e.g. fitness bands, smartwatches)—and send the information to EHR systems from which doctors can view the aggregated data.
Some critics have derided the utility of mHealth apps, but if health data from smartphones, wearables and medical devices at home get utilized in the clinical setting, then patients could reap real benefits. Doctors could monitor their patients between visits, and patients can easily connect with care providers through the user-facing Health app in iOS under which HealthKit is framed.
Up and Running
Even prior to launching HealthKit, Apple had announced that it was already testing the platform with two prominent medical institutions in clinical trials:
- Stanford University Hospital doctors are using HealthKit to track blood sugar levels of pediatric patients.
- Duke University is using it to monitor weight, blood pressure and other data from cancer and heart disease patients.
Per Politico: “The platform is giving physicians their first opportunity to use wearable technology in clinical care," said Ricky Bloomfield, MD, director of mobile technology strategy at Duke medical school. Data from glucometers, blood pressure cuffs, spirometers and other devices flows through HealthKit and into Epic’s MyChart app.
“All of a sudden, we had a way to do what we wanted to do,” Bloomfield said. “I’ve had physicians all over Duke ask how they can use the technology…It empowers patients to be involved in their own care in a very easy way.”
Stanford and Duke are the first of many hospitals Apple wants to partner with to test HealthKit. Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins and Mount Sinai are reportedly talking to Apple as well. The company is also collaborating with medical device companies and EHR vendors Epic, Cerner and athenahealth, among others. Apple had also integrated Mayo Clinic’s EHR from Epic Systems into HealthKit earlier this year.
Health and Wellness Apps
Both established names and startups are part of the early batch of HealthKit-integrated apps designed for doctors and patients. More compatible apps are on the way.
- WebMD: Offers physician-reviewed health content, symptom checker, drug database; Healthy Target allows users with activity trackers and wireless blood pressure monitors (e.g. WiThings) to sync data with the Apple Health app dashboard.
- Mayo Clinic: One of the first partners of Apple in developing HealthKit, Mayo Clinic re-launched its app that allows users to access Mayo Clinic health information side-by-side with fitness and nutrition data, contact their providers using secure messaging, schedule appointments, view lab results, and watch Mayo Clinic videos; disease management component to be added soon.
- MyChart (Epic Systems): Users can access their personal health records; patients enrolled in self-tracking programs by care providers can use Track My Health to upload their health and fitness data; allows real-time, accurate analysis of a patient's health status at home through HealthKit.
- HealthLoop: Allows doctors to monitor patients post-surgery via automatic check-in guides, uses real-time data for detecting complications and improving adherence; for example, high temperature and lack of activity trigger physician alerts to intervene.
- HumanaVitality App (Humana): Rewards users for meeting personal wellness goals (get active, eat better, lose weight or reduce stress); users can upload fitness data from wearables into the Apple Health app and earn “Vitality Points” for hitting milestones; points can be redeemed for movie tickets and fitness equipment.
- Amwell (American Well): Offers live virtual/video visits (telemedicine); users can seamlessly share data (heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, temperature, blood glucose levels, weight, diet); users can consult physicians 24/7, no appointment needed; doctors can diagnose and prescribe medications (in 45 states).
- Hello Doctor: Patients and caregivers organize all medical records and health info in one app; auto-create blood pressure reports at home to show to doctor during visit; add notes to treatment options.
- AskMD (ShareCare): Symptom checker, diagnostic questionnaires, personalized health consultation app; can synchronize current health data-including age, sex, weight, height and blood pressure; populate user health vitals in AskMD’s Health Check, providing an animated snapshot of personal health; sends “push” notifications to improve health and fitness.
- Instant Heart Rate Monitor (Azumio): Gives heart rate reading by placing tip of index finger on camera lens; allows Health app sharing: self-described as “the world’s best mobile heart rate measurement app and is trusted by Stanford’s leading cardiologists for use in clinical trials.”
- Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker (MyFitnessPal): Free calorie counter linked to a database of more than 4 million types of foods; allows easy sharing with other HealthKit-enabled apps (can count exercise and calories gathered by other apps).
- Health Mate Steps Tracker & Life Coach (WiThings): Tracks everyday activity and heart rate using iPhone’s built-in sensors; steps challenge and WiThings statistics scoreboard (total distance, total number of steps, times you reached 10,000 steps in a day, your minimum weight, etc.); fingerprint ID data protection.
A notable holdout in HealthKit integration is popular wearable maker FitBit. The company cited lack of compatibility with Google’s Android mobile operating system as the reason for not integrating its products with HealthKit. As a result of their dispute, Apple has removed FitBit products from its physical stores.
It’s still early days for HealthKit, and its eventual success relies on many factors. While consumers are generally open to using health and wellness apps, they may be thinking twice if their data is ported over to the clinical side. Amid cybersecurity threats and data leaks, it may be tougher to convince users to enable sharing. Doctors – who are still grappling with EHRs – could also be reluctant to deal with the influx of data sent by HealthKit apps.
Yet, HealthKit has great potential to improve healthcare. And if Apple and its partners can work out kinks like interoperability and data privacy (or possibly, HIPAA compliance), then the merging of personal data and clinical data could lead to better outcomes for patients.
Jof Enriquez is a registered nurse, medical writer and healthcare journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @jofenriq.