Last week the New York Times reported that Apple met with the FDA to discuss mobile medical applications. While it’s no secret Apple has been on a hiring spree focused on talent with expertise related to mobile health, this has been the surest sign to date that Apple has plans to release a dedicated health app in future iterations of iOS.
The reliable 9to5mac claims Apple is working on a “Healthbook” app, similar to the Passbook app currently on all iPhones. It will enable users to store blood pressure recordings, heart rate, glucose levels, and other health metrics.
Improving Public Health
There are millions of iPhones that have been sold, and the feature that makes it great for a public health tool is also a feature many technology purists hate — uniformity. If Apple were to create a standard health metric tracking application — Healthbook, it would be easy to teach individuals how to use the app because of the uniformity factor. Unlike Samsung’s forays into similar applications, you wouldn’t have to worry about different phones and different operating systems. With Apple you know you will get the same user experience, on the same device, and you can feel comfortable the app will get robust updates and support.
This type of uniformity is not only important for the user experience, but would also make physicians significantly more comfortable in using this app with their patients.
Force doctors out of their comfort zone
If Apple were to push a standard Healthbook app as part of their mobile operating system in iOS 8, it would force physicians to understand the mobile health space. Almost all of Apple’s standard apps, like Passbook, cannot be deleted from your iPhone — this can be annoying on a personal level, but from a public health standpoint has tremendous benefits.
With smartphones penetrating well over 50% of adult Americans, and Apple having 15% marketshare, that yields to millions of patients with iOS devices. This isn’t even including Apple’s dominance with the iPad. With conservative estimates, if at least 5 to 10% of your patients have an iPhone or iPad that you know has a comprehensive health tracking app built in, physicians will be forced to understand how to use this platform.
The larger point is this. If Apple were to make their app FDA approved, physicians could no longer use the excuse of not trusting the app — it would be medical grade. In one fell swoop, Apple has the ability to add a comprehensive uniform health tracking app to tens of millions of iOS devices. This could give us the opportunity to change patient behavior in a way never thought imaginable before.