(Originally written on August 5, 2014)
Right now, there are thousands of articles talking about privacy and information related to mobile users, and nowhere is this more applicable than with electronic health records.
Simply using simple location information (latitude and longitude, plus the date and time when it was recorded), we can start to make inferences about a user’s behavior. When that location feed is a continuous stream from a mobile device, we can infer where a user’s home and office are located, and even be able to predict where they might be at certain times in the future.
The proliferation of new wearable devices (such as the FitBit and the rumored Apple iWatch) add even more data to this stream. Heart rate, body temperature, calorie levels, blood glucose, brain waves…all of these are constant streams of data that can be monitored given the right technology. That data can be analyzed, or even gamified.
As an example, I have a device called the Automatic (automatic.com). It’s a small dongle that plugs into the port in my car under my steering wheel. It tracks three things — a hard start (stepping hard on the accelerator), a hard stop (hard on the brake), or any time I go above 70 mph. If any of those things happen, it beeps at me. The gamified part comes in when it sends the data (via Bluetooth) to my phone, telling me how much better I’ve become over the past few weeks, as well as how much gas I have saved.
Other than wearable devices, there are many other types of data-producing devices that are coming out. The Emotiv Insight or the Muse are both wireless headsets that monitor brain and EEG activity. There are wearable rings that listen for users gestures (and sync with their mobile device). And there is about to be a pocket spectrometer that will let users analyze the molecular purity of the food they are about to eat.
Here’s where HealthKit fits in:
All of these devices read a stream of data. Apple has created a local database for people to aggregate this information.
HealthKit is the system that reads or writes to a local database on an iPhone (with iOS 8). Every data point is accompanied by its value, unit of measurement, and the date/time when it was recorded. Any app is able to request to read from this database, or write to it.
When an app makes a request, users can choose whether to allow it to read/write that information — similar to the way apps request to send push notification, use the microphone, or monitor your location. The user’s privacy will always be respected first and foremost.
HeathKit is not just for medical devices to send information — there are opportunities for EHR apps as well as custom medical analysis apps that can scrub through a person’s recorded data (recorded from any third-party device) and help people in identifying problem areas or helping them optimize their own health. Gamification and social sharing are also opportunities when people allow access to their stored information.
Prior to HealthKit, each device manufacturer had to create their own app, store their own data (either locally or securely online). Some have done this well (like Withings) whereas most have made a token effort at best. But now, they can focus on what they do well (device monitoring and Lightning integration), and leave the app development to any third party software developers. All of this leads to many more choices and much more functionality for end-users.