Expert Voices

Why Apple's Health App Means No More Guesswork (Op-Ed)

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(Image credit: Apple.)

Christopher Hanifin is an instructor at and chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Master of Science in Physician Assistant Program at Seton Hall University School of Health and Medical Sciences. He contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights

How much do you really know about your health? Sure, you may "feel healthy," but do you have the data to back it up?

Most Americans would probably be surprised by how little their fellow Americans know about their own health. If you ask any health care provider, they have likely experienced countless interactions like this:

Provider: "Do you have any medical conditions?"

Patient: "Yes. I am not sure what they are. My wife usually keeps track of that."

Provider: "I see. Do you take any medications?"

Patient: "Yes … I forget the name. It's a little, white pill."

Under non-urgent circumstances, interactions like this are simply humorous or annoying. In an emergency situation, however, the consequences of not having access to a medical history can be severe. Happily, technology could come to the rescue, perhaps predictably, in the form of an app. [The Best Apps for Your Health, Part 1]

Apple recently revealed an app called Health that can serve as a repository of important health care information. Gone may be the days of watching a patient retrieve a battered index card from the depths of a purse or wallet. Imagine, instead, a future in which a patient and a provider can quickly and simply update information, together, in real time. The patient could easily pull up the information at the office of another provider, at a pharmacy or in an emergency department.

With this app, however, Apple intends to raise the stakes well beyond creating a high-tech index card. With the release of a development tool called HealthKit, Apple has given developers an opportunity to create applications that communicate with the Health app. 

These new tools will help providers make the most of the health care mantra of "evidence-based medicine." Solid decisions about health care are driven by data, and any tool that can improve data may prove transformative.

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As an example, doctors have long made decisions about diabetes care based on three daily blood samples. But technology currently exists to monitor blood sugar continuously. Perhaps soon an iPhone will serve as a monitor of these levels, signal if something seems wrong and transmit data trends to a health care provider. The possibilities are significant; data regarding factors like exercise, diet, sleep patterns and blood pressure might all be analyzed to develop a customized treatment plan. [Survey: Health Apps a Big Hit on Smartphones]

Security concerns will have to be addressed, and some may view the app as a form of "Big Brother." But the real aim of such a system will be the productive cooperation of patient and provider. Clinicians enter into contracts with patients to work together toward the patient's well-being. Doing so requires good decisions, and the best decisions are those made together with the benefit of thorough, comprehensive data.

Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.

Seton Hall University