Could an Apple a day drive the doctor away?

With the official launch of the much-anticipated iPhone 6 taking place earlier this week, it’s not just the usual Apple fanatics getting excited. As Apple reveals further plans about its leap into the healthcare industry via its new app, HealthKit, the health enthusiasts are joining the bandwagon too.

In an earlier blog from Highland Marketing, industry advisor Ravi Kumar discussed how Apple’s new innovation “could change the way we track and manage our well-being and potentially give rise to keeping our health records in the palm of our hand and accessible at the press of a button.” Further detail and commentary about the launch of HealthKit highlights the potential for new attitudes to personal healthcare to evolve but focuses less on the potential strain it may put on the patient-GP relationship.

According to Apple, HealthKit allows you to store your health and fitness information in one place on your device, which is under your control. You can choose how you use and share the information however you like and decide what apps can access your data.

The HealthKit platform could act as a data repository for people’s medical information by monitoring their symptoms, logging the data and allowing them to send it on to their doctor if they choose. Other reports highlight that it could even link directly into electronic patient records such as those provided by Epic and Cerner.

But how will this app affect the mind-set of consumers and their health? Of course the app has useful features, you will be able to track your heart rate, calories burned, blood sugar, cholesterol etc. In doing this it has the potential to make people very aware of their actions and the direct impact it has on their health and performance, which is considered a positive thing.

On the other hand, could this self awareness and responsibility raise a whole host of issues amongst the ‘worried well’ with people self-diagnosing their own conditions and providing their own interpretation against that of a doctor’s professional opinion?

For example, if a large dip in a graph displaying blood sugar levels should appear, the user of HealthKit may interpret this as a big problem and rush to see their doctor when it is actually quite normal for that individual. Without a doctor who can relate to what this data means in clinical terms, misunderstandings and unnecessary worrying could occur easily, potentially increasing the burden on our health service.

Equally, users might begin to rely on their app, avoiding the doctor because their device says that they are fine and within all the usual parameters and readings, this could lead to other health issues being overlooked. In addition, As Dr Rakesh Kapila, a private GP at the South Kensington GP Clinic in London told Forbes “the app needs to be programmable in an individual way specific for the patient with individual limits set. Some patients will develop anxiety over less than perfect figures and it could end up being an unhealthy obsession.”

Other medical professionals have also spoken out about the potential flaws in HealthKit and how they are concerned with accuracy of data and its reliability to be gathered and saved appropriately. Dr Dushan Gunasekera of the Battersea myHealthCare Clinic told Forbes “whilst having this data could be of use, a doctor is unable to guarantee that whichever blood pressure monitor, glucose monitor or fitness tracker a patient is using will be accurate.” He believes that it is unlikely that we will get to the point where a doctor can just take a look at a phone and provide a diagnosis.

Apple’s new presence in the healthcare marketplace will undoubtedly be one to watch, with a large new audience introduced to HealthKit as it is a default in the new iOS. The question will be whether it can buck the trend of most consumers giving up on their wearable devices after six months or whether it could potentially start to have an impact on the traditional doctor-patient relationship.

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