Providers working with Apple on smartwatch to connect with patients
Healthcare providers including the Mayo Clinic are expressing interest in working with Apple on its new smartwatch and HealthKit software platform to enable people to collect and share their health information. But skeptics say most consumers have limited interest in using wearable devices to gather health information.
Last week, Apple unveiled its Apple Watch, which CEO Tim Cook described as a comprehensive health and fitness device that can motivate wearers to be healthier. The device, which will be available in early 2015, will be able to track medical and fitness data such as pulse rate. It can pair that information with Apple’s new HealthKit platform, which can aggregate health data from various wearable devices and send them to providers or other entities. As presented by Apple, the new smartwatch does not track blood pressure, temperature, or glucose and hydration levels, as some observers had predicted.
The Mayo Clinic has decided to be involved with Apple because it hopes remote monitoring tools such as the Apple Watch, along with the HealthKit platform, will allow it to better reach patients remotely.
By the end of September, Mayo plans to broaden its patient app available on iTunes—which allows patients to access their test results and make appointments—into a consumer app, said Dr. John Wald, the clinic’s medical director for marketing. By early next year, it also could allow the clinic to interact with consumers for conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiac disease and asthma. For example, Wald said, they could help obese patients with diet and exercise. Wald said no money is changing hands under the partnership.
Dr. John Halamka, chief information officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, said the combination of HealthKit and wearables such as the Apple Watch will allow providers to facilitate well- ness, which is increasingly important under population-health-management models. “I think it’s going to radically change our ability to coordinate care,” he said, noting how a wearable device combined with a platform such as HealthKit could help people remotely monitor the functional status of a family member with a condition such as multiple sclerosis.
Beth Israel Deaconess plans to build its own app that takes advantage of HealthKit and remote monitoring tools like the Apple Watch to target readmissions of patients with congestive heart failure. The app Halamka envisions will track patient information such as daily weight, activity levels and pulse, and notify care managers of any clinically significant variance.
HealthKit also holds promise as a new foundation for health app developers. Because the platform will aggregate data from various wearables and render it into a common format, “developers can focus on cool functions for apps without having to worry about the interfaces or even the notion of different data standards for dealing with these” devices, Halamka said. As a result, he said, systems will become more aggressive in creating their own apps.
But some observers question whether the Apple Watch can truly nudge consumers toward better health. For example, Citigroup found in a survey that health and fitness rank near the bottom of consumers’ reasons to purchase the Apple Watch.
Dr. Joseph Kvedar, founder of the Center for Connected Health at Boston-based Partners HealthCare, said wearable devices have had limited appeal for people other than those who are sick and health/fitness enthusiasts.
Dr. Aaron Carroll, an associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, said, “I’m skeptical that collecting tons and tons of data and putting it in front of physicians is magically going to change the quality of the U.S. healthcare system.”
But Wald said Apple’s HealthKit platform will allow consumers to define what’s relevant to them. “I personally believe it will be up to providers and users to find what fits best,” he said.
To protect patient privacy, Wald said, Mayo will walk patients through a brief education process prior to linking the Mayo Clinic app with Apple’s HealthKit platform, including medical privacy consent and a reminder that once the information passes into HealthKit, the patient and not Mayo is responsible for the health data.
Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the Apple Watch on Sept. 9 during an event in California.