Apple's profound iPhone plans for healthcare

Apple's work on electronic health records has profound consequences

Apple, iOS, iPhone, health, digital health, Apple Watch, machine intelligence, health
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A report today once again confirms Apple is interested in making your iPhone the center of your electronic health records (EHR) data. What’s going on, and why does this matter?

Take a Gliimpse

Apple last year acquired Gliimpse, an electronic health records development company. When news of the purchase broke, I suggested this marked the company’s interest in developing its own EHR systems, and this has been confirmed by CNBC.

Apple wants the iPhone to become the center for all your health data, including clinical, allergy and wellness data and more.

“To that end, it is talking to hospitals, researching potential acquisitions, and attending health IT industry meetings,” the report explained.

Senior Apple people, including Bud Tribble, are involved in the project, and the company has hired key developers with experience in this field.

“These people include Sean Moore, an Apple software engineer who previously worked at medical records giant Epic Systems, and Ricky Bloomfield, a physician from Duke University with a background in medical informatics,” this report claims.

Why does this matter?

There is nothing more personal than your medical data. It is also true that medical care is highly personal as the needs of every individual are different.

Age, sex, diet, air quality, location, fitness levels, genetics—those are just some of the many different considerations that need to be looked at when developing treatment and self-care plans.

This riot of personalization also demands medical professionals look at your specific medical history, and the problem with that data is that it still lives in silos.

In countries in which medical data is digitized, you’ll find different standards, different software, different technologies that just don’t interoperate very well.

This fragmentation limits what you can do with this information, even though the dream is that you as a patient should be able to visit any doctor anywhere and they should be able to access all your data, enabling them to deliver better medical outcomes.

In an ideal world, your activity data would feed into your medical data, giving you and any medical professionals you interact with better insight into your physical condition. This also extends to your physical reactions to any treatments or medication you may receive.

When you visit a new health provider, you still find your data needs to be passed along manually, in PDF or even in paper form. Information shared is limited, and when moving between nations the challenge is even greater. What can be done?

Apple's response

Apple seems committed to taking its platforms and creating its own standards for health data.

Apple has a strong position in the healthcare sector from which to do this. Most doctors use iOS, most iOS users are active users of their products, and its focus on data privacy and security means your medical data is safe. That’s even before you consider powerful tools such as HealthKit, ResearchKit, CareKit, activity sensors and all the other health-related technologies Apple has already developed.

These technologies are already saving lives. A recent Stanford University study of wearable technologies confirmed they can not only tell you when you have become ill, but when you are about to become ill.

team from UCSF Cardiology and Apple Watch developers Cardiogram have spent a year developing and testing a deep learning A.I. they hope will accurately detect the warning signs of stroke.

Join the dots

When you stop to consider how technologies like these could work in tandem with machine intelligence, you may see that they may potentially enable quantum leaps in preventative and post-diagnostic care.

I imagine this model might gather location data, air quality information, activity data, and combine it with what is known about your current physical condition and medical history.

These (and other) data sets would be constantly monitored and analyzed in response to your current condition. This would enable technology to make useful recommendations to help improve your treatment and self-care, and would enable powerful insights in terms of remote diagnosis and management of existing conditions.

Development of technologies that seem to support such remote health monitoring solutions is already on the Apple roadmap. It has hired key experts to help in this task.

Something is missing

What’s the missing piece? Electronic Health Records.

Making these available to connected systems is key. It is the difference between systems that create broadly generalized digital health suggestions, and those capable of delivering personalized recommendations suitable for you.

Take running: While it’s broadly accepted that running is a good exercise, it doesn’t always follow that running is good for you in your individual physical state. Access to your data would enable technology to provide a recommendation that really worked for you, rather than those that generally work for most.

That’s got to be why Apple is prepared to invest deeply in this segment, and its investments will have profound implications not just for consumers, but for anyone involved in healthcare provision.

When it gets this right it will be ushering in a digital transformation story that makes a massive and profound difference to healthcare.

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