Thursday, October 21, 2021

Apple’s Health app is a much better way to get better health care

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When Apple first released its new iOS 15 operating system last week, it surprised consumers by one particular feature: The Health app, a sleek new iteration of Apple’s first wellness app, My Health. The app has hundreds of thousands of modules that not only track weight, body temperature, heart rate, steps taken, and sleep but also connect to more than 200 external fitness gadgets (think pedometers, heart monitors, and scales). The app’s discovery feature will even alert you when you break a sweat (i.e. during a jog). But what really makes Apple’s Health app stand out, and how it may one day influence the health-tech industry in general, is its ability to discover features for integrative medicine—anything that works with your body, its ecosystem, and its environments.

That’s because health apps, like the Health app, are digital people. And just like any good consumer, Apple has learned from past failures and learned from today’s developments in biomedical research. Smarting from the ouster of its founders and unhappy with Apple’s failure to position its premium health app as a health hub, the company’s engineers began looking at ways to integrate more basic medications into iOS, developing a storage component for users’ existing health data and starting to package the data for users to keep when they were running their Apple watch. Apple has added a good amount of transparency into its pipeline for integrative medicine, both publicly and internally.

As one of the device-focused companies with a commitment to the field, Apple could take a cue from parent company Amazon’s business strategy in health care. Like Apple, Amazon launched its own digital health store called PrimeHealth a few years ago. PrimeHealth has a much more open, vibrant, and friendly environment than the Health app. Users can book appointments and get in touch with their primary care doctors online, track patients’ growth and potential relapse, as well as download more integrative medicine products—and it’s free for them to use it. Apple has also signed partnerships with a number of digital health platforms (like Sigfox, which had its own fight with the Department of Health and Human Services about an interoperability policy earlier this year), and with established medical experts like Yale researchers and Stanford’s Raquel Urtasun to help build the evidence that would help make holistic medicine—or integrative medicine—a viable alternative to major pharmaceutical brands.

Apple has already translated the technology that was the heart of its first health app into a more robust health platform, with integrative medicine module, more flexible e-book app, and more health-focused wellness features. The Health app has even “triggered” alerts for users to follow up on that they were logged into Apple Care. Once a user logs into an event (marijuana use, new diet), the app alerts you if you are experiencing symptoms, as well as a history of abuse—thus providing you with the doctor that you need. As for integrative medicine, the iPhone has a leg up on these other health-tech firms (or “wearables”) in that “everything about your health is built in.” Apple’s latest iPhone platform supports several new sensors and devices—like sleep analysis, fitness bands and medical devices—and allows health experts to integrate them into a scalable ecosystem for better, safer health. Apple has promised more medical research integration, as well.

Apple’s Health app is a significantly better effort than the current digital people—some arguably less sophisticated than its iOS Health app—where you have to have a doctor to get what you need. Apple’s collective experience and know-how over years of run-up to the iPhone as the must-have lifestyle device have vastly exceeded that of the other platform companies and other companies in the industry. Apple has always been a busy, fastidious, and technically savvy company; its medical discoveries and research appear nowhere in the Health app, though they certainly play out in that gorgeous, seamless app, which creates a seamless, synergistic experience of health with your phone and your home.

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