Apple’s health app could be the new family nurse

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Soon you will not need to wait for an appointment with your doctor, as you will have the facility to check your watch or phone for results. The Apple iPhone 6 has been released and it includes the new Health app and the associated developer’s tool called HealthKit.

The software enables other fitness and health apps to share information. The app has been integrated into the new Apple Watch and may be able to monitor chronic conditions and the heart rate of the user.

Apple’s fitness partner for its HealthKit, Nike, has been working on a wearable health gadget for a long time. Other tech and health companies, such as Wahoo Fitness and Fitbit, already have watch-like devices and wristbands targeted at runners, on the market. However, HealthKit offers more. It will measure not only the health of the user, but illnesses as well. This could be the reason why Mayo Clinic has become a partner in HealthKit.

Apple’s senior vice-president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, said that when a patient takes a blood pressure reading, HealthKit will notify their app automatically. The app is able to check if the reading is within the patient’s personalised healthcare parameters. It if is not, it is able to proactively notify a doctor or contact the hospital, and that doctor can react to it, which will provide more timely care. The app will in effect act as a sort of nurse, checking on the vital signs and illnesses and sending a notification to a healthcare professional if something is wrong.

Apple is not the only group in this field. The Michael J Fox Foundation and Intel have developed a wearable healthcare device to track Parkinson’s disease. DuoFertility is a wearable app for couples with infertility problems. It collects around 20000 data points daily and transmits it to a wireless reader. Based on the data received, the app has the capacity to inform the couple on the best time to try and conceive. The CEO of DuoFertility, Dr Claire Hooper, stated that the company is planning to develop apps for pain and sleep issues as well. Valencell has developed earbuds that are able to monitor vital signs.

But, for all the excitement linked to the new app, wearable healthcare is still a very small market. The senior vice-president at The Futures Company, Jeff Yang, said that mainstream applications will find a market among those suffering with chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. However, a lot of the effort in the wearable app market has been focused on particular niches, such as health, wellness and fitness tracking.

Although these health apps are able to record huge amounts of data, there is no central system for collecting the data, or for evaluating it. A clinical fellow in cardiology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Dr Satish Misra, said it would be useful if, for example, a diabetics blood measurement figures could be delivered to their doctor, otherwise it would be a complete waste of the doctor’s time and the user’s money.

However, Misra stated that the market release of the gadgets may be a good thing as it would force healthcare providers to create a suitable system to process the collectable data.

There is one huge problem. A test done by Symantec indicated that wearable healthcare gadgets leak the data of users. Around 20% of the gadgets they monitored transmitted the credentials of the user, including their login details in clear text. They stated that attempts to hack healthcare data have increased greatly over the past few years. According to a reports issued by Websense during this month, the number of hacking attempts on hospital in the US have increased by around 600% during the past 10 months.

Placing the security concerns to one side – will wearable healthcare devices become popular with consumers?

According to Yang, they will not. He said dedicated fitness trackers have already started to level. He said multi-use devices, such as the Apple Watch, will take over many of the categories offered. He said the integration of a range of services into one device is the answer as there is no need to update, charge and carry an additional device.

Image Credit: Jason Howie

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Health News UK provides the latest health and medical industry news for the United Kingdom

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