At this point, it’s less a revolutionary idea and more of a conundrum. Yes, integrating patient generated health data (PGHD) into clinical practices holds great value, but a number of obstacles exist, most notably collection and integration. Health fitness apps and hardware remain niche products mainly utilized by fitness fanatics rather than the chronically ill patients who truly need to track and quantify their health.
This makes practicing preventive medicine and managing the health of entire populations difficult because providers must encourage patients to adopt totally new habits to track their health — habits which are unlikely to catch on if patients must also adopt new technology.
It seems Apple is about to change all that. The first major step in this direction came when Apple announced that the new iPhone 5s contained an M7 coprocessor, which can detect motion and monitor running, walking, driving, and other activities with great accuracy. This functionality happens continuously without accessing the device’s main processor, thereby preventing battery drain.
Apple has created some serious advertising to position the iPhone as the new fitness hardware, but fitness apps are common, and even with the iPhone’s user base, the M7 doesn’t guarantee users will adopt the iPhone for fitness. They still have to download third-party apps and coordinate data between them.
That’s why Apple launched HealthKit.
While the HealthKit app works like many other fitness apps, it can aggregate data from other apps. This makes Health a wellness platform rather than simply an application. Coupled with the motion tracking abilities of the M7, Apple’s healthcare play takes on a bit of a different light.
But the Silicon Valley behemoth isn’t finished.
When Apple announced iOS 8, the interface and functionality took center stage, but it’s the announcement of a partnership with EPIC that demands attention. EPIC commands a far greater segment of the EHR market than any of its competitors, with conservative estimates putting the company’s reach at 40 percent.
Integrating the two technologies could be a huge step forward toward scalable preventive medicine. Accessing patients’ glucose levels, blood pressure, caloric intake, and other relevant data could be as simple as clicking on a tab in the EPIC interface. This would streamline the process and place valuable data in the hands of physicians.
Historically, making the leap from fitness and nutrition tracking to true healthcare data connector has been difficult. Google tried and failed with Google Health, a service the company discontinued in 2013. Google Fit, the company’s latest attempt, offers similar integration capabilities to Health. However, Google has yet to announce any plans for provider-facing integration.
HealthKit is obviously focused on becoming a central part of the provider-patient relationship. Suddenly the aforementioned M7 coprocessor becomes more compelling. It’s unlikely patients will buy new fitness hardware like a FitBit or JawBone to record and manage their health information. But managing their data from an iPhone seems infinitely more possible, especially if Apple can keep the learning curve low.
Though HealthKit may make the collection and transfer of data easier, it won’t answer the questions of relevance or validity that still plague PGHD. Apple does advertise patients' ability to choose what data they share, so if physicians develop strong standards around what they require from patients, the amount of data appears manageable.
With the rumored iWatch on the horizon, Apple could break into the biometric data realm as well. For now, the Apple/EPIC partnership means there are immense opportunities for providers and preventive medicine. The next step is implementation.