Effortless Insight: Next Steps for Apple Health
The End of the Beginning of Health Data
Today Apple announced that their Apple Health iOS app would now integrate with health records for the more than 9 million veterans under the care of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) in more than 1000 facilities. This adds even more momentum to Apple’s EHR push, which is supported at last count by more than 200 health systems across the US including Stanford, Yale, Johns Hopkins, and Partners (which includes Mass General and Brigham and Women’s).
I’m a user of the Apple Health integration myself. My independent primary care doctor, who is happily continuing to use paper records, uses LabCorp for labs, and the Medstar system (for my cardiologist) pushes labs, conditions/diagnoses, vitals, allergies, medications, and more via the integration.
As a user, the system is a breeze: I opened the health app, clicked Add Account, and provided my login for Labcorp and Medstar (provided by my doctors). Having signed in, I can see all my info (see image at right) and whenever a new item is available I receive a notification on my phone and can immediately view it.
I imagine this is similar to the moment when, years ago, banks first agreed to send monthly statements to their clients via postal mail. That gave banking customers, and now gives healthcare customers, the most basic raw data about their use of the healthcare system.
But getting access to raw data is just a means to an end; that end being insight into and control over one’s health. To quote Winston Churchill: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Next Step: Visualization of My Health Data
So right now, I can get my raw medical data, but I can’t easily track or monitor anything — much less do anything more advanced. For example, here’s what Apple Health shows when I want to see my hemoglobin levels from over the last few years:
This barely works even just for the 5 hemoglobin values that I’ve had drawn in the last 6 years — so it’s definitely not going to work if I have tens or hundreds of values (e.g. of blood glucose for a diabetic). Apple Health lets me graph my weight over time, so why not something more like this:
Well, we’re out of luck: you can’t (yet) graph lab values in Apple Health. 😲
Early days, indeed.
Effortless Insight: the Example of Personal Finance
To get back to the banking analogy, what most people need is not raw data — because they don’t have the expertise or time to analyze it. Sure, it’s great — essential, really — for me to be able to look up a particular transaction in my bank statement (or, nowadays, online).
But there’s another level of insight into my finances that plain old statements never provided me, and that I never even realized I was missing . . . until I signed up for Mint.com and Personal Capital.
Mint and Personal Capital, if you’ve never used them before, are “aggregators”: you give them logins for all your financial accounts (yes, a little scary) and then the present all your financial data in an integrated way, not just as individual lists of transactions.
One key piece of info provided by both is my “net worth” (all my assets minus all my debts) — which many financial planners believe is the most important single indicator of your financial health.
Despite that, most people don’t know their net worth — and neither did I until I signed up for these tools. Like most people, I sure wasn’t going to add up all those accounts myself.
Likewise, Personal Capital will look at your accounts and give you an analysis of your investments, and of the chances that you're on track for retirement. No personal finance advisor needed.
Once they're set up, both Mint and Personal Capital give me me effortless insight into my finances.
Towards Effortless Insight in Health
What the army of iOS developers, and the army of doctors and other health professionals, should be thinking of now is “what would a Personal-Capital-style dashboard for health look like?” Graphs of weight and blood pressure? Exercise log? The famous rings from the Apple Watch?
And what’s my "net health": the health equivalent of the net worth? Some overall measure of health and fitness, like the RealAge® developed at ShareCare? How about my 10-year risk % for heart disease or stroke, according to the algorithm developed by ACC/AHA (American Cardiology and American Heart Association)? Some new measure? A combination?
The point is that Apple and its 200 health system partners are giving us real access to our health data, and letting us connect it with eager developers all over the world — and just like in finance this means we have a real chance to move our health data from something that most of us never see and never think about to something that lives in our pocket, and guides us and supports us and gives us effortless insight into our health at every stage of life.