What should Apple do?
It is a reasonable assumption that Apple will have similar or more stringent disclaimers and privacy policies as currently available mHealth apps. However, it is imperative that Apple addresses the issue of transferability and accessibility of health data as it releases more information leading up to their roll-out of the HealthKit and the HealthApp. Apple is a clear industry and thought leader and as such, instead of mirroring the disclaimers and privacy policies of current fitness and health applications, it should articulate a well thought out and formulated policy addressing the issue of data accessibility and transferability by users in mobile health. By providing such a policy, Apple may influence or force the hand of any current or future health apps that are currently not providing such data accessibility or transferability. Basically — Apple has a chance to set the standard.
Apple’s Health app is poised to be the largest launch of a healthcare application on a mobile device because the app will be packaged in with their iOS 8 update. Based on historic data, Apple will have tens of millions of users that will update to the latest platform whenever a new iOS is released and therefore a large number users will have their Health app immediately. Because of this, it is likely that their Health app will be adopted by numerous users as their primary and sole mechanism for monitoring their health.
Analogously, numerous iPhone customers have started relying on Passbook, also included with the iOS, as the sole mechanism for maintaining and managing their travel information. In addition to Passbook’s ease of use, the fact that Passbook is an Apple product and is included with the the iOS has led to its popularity and widespread use. Therefore, it is a reasonable expectation that the Health app will be similarly favored by users and may become the sole and single source for them to maintain their health data.
Based on the differences between Apple’s previous apps (such as Passbook) and other mHealth and fitness apps, there is a clear need for unique data accessibility and transferability policies related to the Health app/HealthKit. For example, the Passbook does not raise any long term data access concerns because travel related data tends to be short-term and such data may be accessed through supplemental sources such as booking websites, etc. Additionally, the exemplary fitness apps discussed above contain data for limited purposes and while this data should be ideally accessible, lack of access to such data may have minimal impact on a user’s health. On the other hand, users may use the Health app or HealthKit platform to store their health data over an extended period of time. For example, a diabetic patient’s stored health data may may include their weight, exercise, monitored blood glucose levels, medical regimens, etc. Lack of access to such long-term health data may have serious medical consequences for the patient.
It’s one thing for Apple to hold you hostage over your iMessages, it’s another if they choose to have the same approach to your health. Time will tell.
Disclaimer: This article solely represents Haris Z Bajwa’s opinions and should not be taken as legal advice.