Quantified Self Will Become Medicine: New Hopes for Apple’s HealthBook
While no formal announcement, Mac Rumors swirled last week about HealthBook and the iWatch.
Screen images of health book leaked onto 9to5Mac, showing what an Apple Health Book, presumably integrated into iOS, might look like. Reports highlighted several health measurement areas, some with obvious hardware and sensor connections, others without.
Some of the most interesting areas of focus include blood pressure, hydration, respiratory rate, nutrition, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and blood glucose, and even “blood work.”
Could these be sensor-driven? For most there are no current, effective ways of effectively sensing these measures outside of the clinic, and the primary reason this could be truly disruptive. We’re left to speculate at this point, but if these are sensor-driven, we’ll have something that will be disruptive not just in terms of quantified self and technology, but in medicine.
Apple knows that medicine, since medicine has been a science, is about quantifying us. Quantified self is not some passing fad, it’s the future of medicine. What’s changing–what’s revolutionary–is who will be doing the quantifying and where; pushing medicine, as Christensen predicted, to low-cost care centers.
Apple is indicating that quantified self’s future is not selfies for health nuts. Soon, it will be medicine.
I’m reminded, and have high hopes, that this is reminiscent of when Apple created the PC market at a time when people thought that only computer scientists would use computers. The idea now, like then, is to empower people with what technology can do.
My own speculation and hope is that this will be a major first step toward an integrated environment or platform where many of the things that used to be measured in the clinic can be measured seamlessly at home, to make transitions and communications simpler.
A New Platform for Healthcare?
Health tech strategist Vince Kuraitis recently tweeted: “For wearables, Google likely views Android SW as “platform”; Apple views combo hardware (phone/watch) + iOS SW as platform.”
I tend to agree, and a larger question may be whether the sensors for HealthBook would be a part of the platform, or would Apple just do some easy integration? My sense, and my hope, is that sensors will be separate from “platform,” and would connect like apps use the current iPhone. In that way, Apple could grow sensor ecosystems that would be open and available to further innovation. Given Apple’s history of tight control over hardware, it’s very much an open question whether they will go in that direction.
Could Apple operate and sell a network of sensors more like they operate the app store? What kinds of criteria might they need to meet to ensure quality? Will they provide a platform to connect to the iOS? If so, which iOS platform (iWatch, iPhone or other)?
With software and apps, of course, Apple has maintained a walled-garden approach. Much of the innovation takes place in the app world while preserving some control over what apps are available in the app store. Innovation occurs with the hardware and the user experience. I hope the trend for a walled-garden platform continues making available a network of sensors and sensor apps, much like the app store does for software.
According to venture capitalist MG Siegler (via Wired), “Healthbook could encourage Apple to build more bridges between its devices and third-party sensors, making it easier to find, say, a high-end heart-rate monitor that works with your iPhone.”
Wired goes on to say, “Apple Healthbook won’t just promote the fitness of iPhone users. It will boost the well being of an entire ecosystem of healthcare technology companies.” calling Apple’s play “something huge.”
It’s also easy to speculate that Apple could go the way of Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault. What can Apple do differently to avoid the less-than-disruptive recent history of PHRs?
Make It Seamless
The first, is to make it low-touch, to automate everything. Apple notoriously likes to keep a clean, uncluttered hardware environment to control the user experience, but has also consistently allowed for peripheral devices to interact to say, play music from you iPhone, or get input from your Fitbit.
It’s hard to imagine that Apple, as user experience experts, would expect users to input information manually, so there’s plenty of speculation about what sensors might be on the way.
We’ve come to expect success from Apple, largely due to their focus on user experience. I can’t help but dream of a watch that could measure all of these things, but it just doesn’t seem doable in the near future. It’s also hard to imagine some kind of network of sensors.
Will there be a community, or a social component?
Make it Social
Most successful apps act as communications tools of one kind or another. Will HealthBook offer the same? Or, will they use third-party sharing and communities like Facebook?
Make it Ours
As I mentioned in iHealthBeat on the Social Economy of Healthcare, I hope Apple will find a way to treat the community ownership-aspect appropriately, as their recent history would suggest. Personal assets such as users’ privacy must be deeply respected while nurturing personal, transformational communication.
Make it Simple
My final wish for the HealthBook is that they make it something my mother can use. Consistency is key, particularly for the elderly. An elderly person or caregiver may have an iPhone, but learning new ways to use it can be intimidating. Make it be simple and seamless, like so many of Apple’s products, enabling the consumer to take care of our own health in a meaningful way.