Apple’s Hospital Trials Highlight Mobile Health Tech Muddle



When Apple first unveiled its HealthKit framework and associated Health app at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June 2014, one Mayo Clinic doctor cited by Apple noted that “HealthKit will revolutionize how the health industry interacts with people.” While most of us have probably not noticed any revolutionary changes in the healthcare industry since last summer, there are several U.S. hospitals where Apple’s mobile healthcare tech is starting to change the way that doctors monitor their patients. According to a new report from Reuters, 14 top U.S. hospitals are either currently running pilot programs that use Apple’s health data platform or “are in talks to do so.”

As explained by Apple, health and fitness apps that are integrated into the HealthKit framework are able to communicate and share data with each other. This allows Apple’s Health app to provide a more comprehensive portrait of a user’s overall health. If a user gives permission, this repository of health information can also be shared with healthcare providers, via special apps like the Mayo Clinic app. This data could include anything from blood pressure to glucose levels.

Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, La. is one hospital that is currently developing a pilot program that will take advantage of the remote monitoring capabilities afforded by HealthKit. Per Reuters, Ochsner Medical Center is working with Apple and Epic Systems – an electronic medical records company – on a system that will keep track of high-risk patients. The hospital is already monitoring hundreds of patients that are having difficulty maintaining a healthy blood pressure through a device that sends data to Apple’s iPhones and iPads. But Chief Clinical Transformation Officer Dr. Richard Milani noted that additional information could improve the program. “If we had more data, like daily weights, we could give the patient a call before they need to be hospitalized,” said Dr. Milani via Reuters.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Although Reuters declined to name all of the hospitals currently testing Apple’s HealthKit, it noted that eight of the facilities were named on U.S. News & World Report’s “Honor Roll” list of best hospitals. On the other hand, according to Reuters, Google and Samsung have only recently initiated talks with a few of these hospitals over the possibility of using the two companies’ rival services. Samsung offers its own health data platform called Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions, or SAMI for short, while Google’s platform is known as Google Fit.

Some of the hospitals that spoke to Reuters expressed interest in testing Google Fit because it is compatible with Android, which is still the most widely used mobile device platform in the world. The incompatibility of Apple’s platform with other companies’ systems highlights a potential problem that could arise as more technology companies debut different health data platforms. So while Apple appears to have a head start on two of its biggest rivals in the mobile healthcare market, some industry watchers believe a common communication protocol between the various mobile health data systems needs to be developed.

Ironically, the higher security and privacy levels that are associated with Apple’s “walled garden” ecosystem may be why some iOS users feel comfortable transmitting their health data via HealthKit. Apple’s App Store review guidelines for apps that use the HealthKit framework state that any apps that “share user data acquired via the HealthKit API with third parties without user consent” or “store users’ health information in iCloud” will be rejected. According to Reuters, Apple has also recruited advisors from the healthcare industry to help it address data privacy concerns.

Another mobile healthcare tech issue that has already emerged is related to the accuracy and quality of the information being collected by these mobile health data platforms. Soon after Apple released its native Health app, the iPhone maker had to disable the feature that tracks a user’s blood glucose levels due to inaccuracies in measurements for users in Australia and the U.K., reports CNET. While Apple was able to fix this issue before it affected any users, the incident raises serious questions about the accuracy of the data collected and relayed by all mobile health programs. Concerns over the privacy and accuracy of the health data collected by mobile devices are only likely to be heightened when Apple releases its fitness tracking Apple Watch in April of this year.

Whether Apple is able to maintain its early lead in the healthcare market may depend on how well it is able to overcome the concerns over privacy and data quality that will inevitably arise with all mobile tech players in this burgeoning industry. Other unforeseen issues are also likely to crop up as more hospitals and other healthcare facilities continue to explore the use of mobile tech. In any case, there is no question that Apple’s HealthKit has already played a major role in sparking the mobile healthcare tech revolution.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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