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Apple Health App and HealthKit

March 2015

By Tom Stibolt, MD, Mobile Musings Column Editor

At the time the iPhone 6 models were released, Apple announced HealthKit, a system designed to provide a structure that apps can use to share health and fitness data with Apple’s Health app. The actual release of HealthKit was delayed due to a bug, but it is now available and various manufacturers are using it to connect devices to the Health App.

In addition to sharing data from devices, HealthKit taps into services like Nike and WebMD, as well as health providers, including Epic Systems and the Mayo Clinic, so patients can better share information with their doctors. Associated with the release, Apple updated its iOS licensing agreement to say that developers cannot “sell an end-user’s health information collected through the HealthKit API to advertising platforms, data brokers, or information resellers.” The Health app only runs on iPhones model 4s and later and the 5th generation iPod touch.

The app provides an easy-to-read dashboard of a user’s health and fitness data. With appropriate sensors, many standalone apps can collect and store information on heart rate, calories burned, blood sugar, and similar items. The new Health app puts that data in one place, accessible with a tap, providing a user with a clear and current overview of health. The data is completely under the user’s control. Information can be shared with the user deciding what information is stored and what is shared. It is possible to create an emergency card with important health information such as blood type or allergies, available right from the device lock screen. If the phone is locked with a passcode or Touch ID, all health and fitness data in the Health app is encrypted. Data stored in the Health app can also be backed up to iCloud, where it is encrypted while in transit and in storage.

HealthKit developers can make their apps even more useful by allowing them to access a user’s health data. The device owner decides what they want to share. They can allow the data from a blood pressure app to be automatically shared with their doctor. They can allow their nutrition app to tell their fitness apps how many calories they consume each day. Apps that access HealthKit are required to have a privacy policy, so users need to review these policies before providing apps with access to their health and fitness data.

It will be interesting to see if Apple can keep companies that make money by aggregating individual data from somehow doing so. The market for consumer health data is big and thriving in the U.S. One data broker, IMS Health, says it aggregates data from 100,000 companies, some of which make apps.

As an example of integration, Stanford Health Care has developed a new iOS 8 MyHealth mobile health app for patients. Developed in-house by Stanford Health Care engineers, MyHealth connects directly with Epic’s EHR, Apple’s HealthKit, and cloud services for consumer health data monitoring. It includes all of the features of the Epic MyChart system such as communicating with providers, getting lab results, making appointments, etc. Stanford hopes the system will give physicians access to meaningful patient data right in Epic, without having to ask the patient to come in for an appointment. They believe that this may be the future of how care will be delivered for many types of chronic conditions. It will be interesting to see whether the Apple Health app connection provides significant useful information.

Editor’s note: the ATS does not endorse any of the programs or products mentioned in this column.

Last Reviewed: September 2017