Apple HealthKit: Two trials detail how it might work in practice

Apple's HealthKit technology will help medical and hospital staff track blood pressure and other vital signs using iPhones and iPads.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Image: Apple live stream

Apple's HealthKit remains under wraps for most, with little known about the scope and scale of the health, activity, and lifestyle tracking capabilities.

According to a new Reuters report published Monday, two hospitals are developing ways to monitor patients' health using medical devices and Apple's new iOS 8 platform.

Stanford University Hospital and Duke University are developing pilots to track their patients through the new software, in efforts to understand better their illnesses.

While Stanford is working with Apple to let physicians track blood sugar levels for pediatric patients with diabetes, Duke is working to track blood pressure and weight, along with other metrics, with chronic and severe illnesses, like heart disease and cancer.

Most reporting is done by phone or fax, but Apple's HealthKit can take in data from medical monitoring devices and feed information back into the platform, allowing users to share the data with doctors. 

In an effort to appease federal regulators and end-users (and patients) of the new software, Apple said it does not see the data. 

Hospitals are also working to get certified by Apple in order to use the platform, maximizing patient confidentiality and privacy. The data must be stored securely on devices, and cannot be sold to advertisers, Apple's health rules state.

Some snippets from the report:

  • Apple is working with a number of healthcare providers across the U.S. to create connections and services between medical devices and iOS 8-enabled phones and tablets, which contain the HealthKit bits.
  • Patients with Type 1 diabetes can be sent home with a cheaper iOS 8-based device, like an iPod touch, to monitor blood sugar levels between doctor's visits.
  • Hardware partners, such as Epic Systems, and DexCom, create healthcare hardware and solutions that are designed to work with Apple's HealthKit. The U.S. government's regulator of medical devices, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is looking to integrate HealthKit into new products, allowing "plug-and-play" integration.
  • Data from monitoring devices can be shared with iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch devices that are HealthKit enabled. This can then be shared with doctors remotely and securely.
  • Health records and collected data can be uploaded from HealthKit into Epic's own app, dubbed MyChart, where they can be viewed by doctors and physicians in Epic's electronic health records database.
  • For DexCom, glucose levels can be measured through a tiny sensor embedded under the skin. Data is transmitted every five minutes to a handheld receiver, which can be put in a patient's pocket. This information is sent back to DexCom's mobile app, which can be run on an iPhone.

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