Apple Takes on Health Like Never Before

A new suite of tools will allow medical professionals to collect and respond to your health data better and faster.

Justin Sullivan/Getty

Following today’s Apple Keynote, there’s a new tool in the arsenal of medical professionals: extensive and constantly updating medical data, provided by your iPhone’s various sensors.

In its Keynote today, Apple made it clear that it wants your iPhone to be an always-on health monitor, whether you have terminal, chronic, or no conditions to speak of.

Perhaps it’s really time to rethink the “apple a day” saying: your Apple device will instead keep the doctor in near constant contact with you and your vitals, giving him real-time access to that information, and allowing him to push new recommendations and treatments your way without a hospital visit.

It’s all part of the new Apple CareKit: a suite of tools in an open source software platform that will allow medical companies to develop iPhone ready apps for better healthcare.

CareKit comes a year after Apple ResearchKit signed up tens of thousands with the intent of helping medical professionals gather useful data for research. “We wanted to make it easier for people to participate in research studies. And we wanted to make it easier to gather accurate and frequent data from the devices we’re already carrying in our hands.”

Apple COO Jeff Williams introduced us to a range of features (using every data-collecting tool at Apple’s disposal, from motion tracking and camera sensors to the many functions of the Apple Watch) to track vital information. Apple ResearchKit has allowed medical researchers to learn more about everything from Parkinson’s symptoms to autism in young children.

That information came from a variety of tools: everything from gyroscopic data on movements, to the data collected from the face camera, to manually input responses to questions. And all of that same data can be used for more than research: it can be used for individual treatment.

“What became clear to us late is the very same tools used to advance medical research can also be used to help people with their care,” he explained.

On the eve of its release, Williams called the new CareKit suite “a framework to build apps that empower people to take an active role in their care.” It’s a potentially life-changing area of innovation. Williams explained that physicians say one of the most important things affecting outcome of surgery are your actions during the recovery process. “Yet we go from being monitored by a team of highly trained specialists using leading edge technology,” he said, “to being discharged with a single sheet of paper.”

A third party has already worked with Apple to develop an app that helps you better monitor and report your progress in recovery from surgery—and share that information with loved ones for support. Or physicians, “who will dynamically update your care plan, so it changes on the fly—something just not possible with a sheet of paper.”

Of course that sheet of paper isn’t vulnerable to hackers—or potential fodder for government surveillance analysts. Not to mention employers, especially if your phone is owned or paid for by the company; it’s potentially unclear whether an app on your phone gets the kind of protection your traditional medical records get.

Privacy concerns are a big topic of conversation for Apple these days, whether the company wants them to be or not.

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For his part, Williams closed his presentation with another round of assurances. “Nothing is more sensitive than your health data,” he said. “You decide which apps you use, and who you share this information.”

Will this option and future apps change the way we treat medical conditions drastically? The software will be out in April, so it remains to be seen. But here’s hoping the NSA is supportive about your recovery regimen.