Why Apple’s HealthKit launch is important for digital health

By: Brian Dolan | Jun 3, 2014        

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Epic hospitals HealthkitAt its World Wide Developers Conference yesterday, Apple announced two new health tools: a health data tracking platform for developers called HealthKit and a dashboard app for consumers simply called Health. Importantly, the Health app will come preloaded on all new iOS devices and will make its way onto older iOS devices if the user makes the free upgrade to iOS8.

While install base is hardly a good number for sizing up a market, moving forward every updated iOS device will have a health tracking app on it. That brings considerable awareness to digital health and it removes one of the first barriers to entry — downloading a health app. This could be huge for the big patient generated health data trend we’ve been covering for the past six years.

Apple also revealed yesterday that it has been working with the Mayo Clinic — for about the past five years — to develop HealthKit and that it is working with Epic Systems to integrate the platform with Epic EHRs.

During his presentation Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi flashed a slide with 22 health systems with Epic deployments, including Stanford Hospital & Clinics, Penn Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and the Cleveland Clinic. He said patients at those facilities would have the ability to integrate HealthKit with their medical records soon. For tech-savvier patients such a declaration from the Apple WWDC stage may prompt people for the first time to ask their physicians which EHR platform they use. Since Epic claims to cover over 100 million lives, there is a good chance it is Epic, but for the HealthKit hopeful another answer would likely be a disappointment. 

Epic, of course, has been fairly bullish on smartphone and tablet apps both for providers and for patients. Its MyChart app was one of the first from the major EHR providers, and the company has long favored Apple’s mobile platforms over others.

Apple’s Mayo Clinic deal is far more interesting, however. Earlier this year when Mayo Clinic-backed startup Better officially launched its personal health assistant app, Better CEO Geoff Clapp explained to MobiHealthNews that Better was just a part of Mayo Clinic’s plan to reach 200 million patients by 2020.

HealthKit trends“I would love to tell you that we are all of it, but I don’t think that would be very fair,” Clapp said back in April. “I think we are a big part of it. I think that’s fair to say… Mayo gets 40 million uniques on their website every month. They have ways to stretch outside of their physical place right now and I think they are thinking about it in a lot of ways. What is the Mayo experience on your mobile phone? That’s Better. There certainly will be other things that they will do to extend their brand though. I wouldn’t expect a 150-year-old institution to put all of their eggs in one startup’s basket — that’s just not realistic.”

While Apple showed off some simply integrations between HealthKit and one of Mayo Clinic’s iPhone apps, integration with Better is likely too.

During the two hour presentation yesterday Apple only spent about three minutes discussing HealthKit and its companion app Health, but since then the company has posted a slightly more informative splash page for the offerings and video walkthroughs of the app have appeared on various tech sites. 9to5Mac, a publication that thanks to anonymous sources has predicted much of HealthKit’s features over the past few months, has the best video walkthrough of the Apple Health app.

Apple could change the app’s features before launch later this year and certain features won’t be available in certain markets, but based on the walkthrough video, the Health app includes fields for a variety of health data fields including slightly more uncommon things like “number of times fallen”, inhaler use, perfusion index and more. After watching the video it seems like Apple attempted to include fields for the various things existing health trackers available in the market today can already track via sensors. It also includes an emergency medical information section where users can store things like allergies and medication lists so that first responders see them when looking at their device — even when it’s locked in the homescreen.

Read this for the entire, albeit brief, transcript of Federighi’s presentation on HealthKit and Health. Check out 9t05Mac’s video demo of the Health app here. Learn more about Apple’s two new health offerings from the company’s own splash page right here.