Apple's latest iOS goes further with its Health app
Users will be able to share medical information with providers and caregivers.
A lesser-known update to the Apple iOS system could offer health companies and consumers a significant change to how they share health-related data. Apple released iOS 15 after announcing the software in June of this year. While the software featured updates to FaceTime, Messages, and SharePlay, the app also incorporated several new functions to the Health app that may improve healthcare for many people.
"This past year has emphasized the importance of health, and we're enabling our users to take a more active role in their well-being. We've added powerful features that give users the most comprehensive set of insights to better understand their health trends over time," said Jeff Williams, Apple's COO, in a press release.
The new Health app update will add a Sharing tab that will allow users to share their health data privately with a trusted partner and caregiver. In many cases, this may include a family member or partner caring for a relevant patient. But for some families, this situation allows users to transfer relevant medical data directly to their doctors or medical record providers.
While the current options are limited to six medical record companies in the United States, the potential of these new data-sharing options is exciting the medical industry. The communications between Apple and medical-related tech companies open many doors to establish interoperability between doctors and patients.
The iOS 15 data-sharing pattern is "really in line with a bunch of federal agencies' goals of trying to promote interoperability," Bethany Corbin, a healthcare innovation attorney at Nixon Gwilt Law, said. The ability to transfer information between two different technological systems has been a consistent barrier for healthcare technology companies. Corbin said that this is something that hasn't been done before.
However, it remains unclear how many will take advantage of such data-sharing capabilities. Pew Research estimates that, as of 2020, only 21% of Americans are using a smartwatch or fitness tracker. This sort of disparity would affect the data's reliability as a whole. There are also concerns about how safe the data would be.
"I think consumers are much more cognizant today of the risks to their data," Corbin told the Washington Examiner. "And so I think a lot of this is going to depend on how consumers perceive the Apple platform. Is it seen as introducing privacy and security risks? Does it have good privacy and security practices as well as consumer control over their data and limits to monetization of that data?"
Others are more skeptical about allowing a tech giant such as Apple to share their medical data at all. "Sharing health data is going to become a necessity in the future, but for successful implementation, it will require the patient in complete control of their data as well as who can access it," Dan Prince, CEO of the custom healthcare software company Illumisoft, said. "Apple has already established a track record of using whatever data they can get their hands on to support themselves. Although I do not doubt that Apple wants and intends on doing something good with their new health data offerings, they're still a big corporation, and we shouldn't trust that kind of information to them."
Corbin also noted that it remains unclear what effects tracking one's health data may have on their health. While limited studies have pointed to some net positives from doing so, the small number of people tracking their health makes it challenging to build a large enough pool of data. There are also cases in which health tracking apps, such as period trackers, are unreliable.
But that failure is all the more reason to pay attention to this iOS 15 development. Corbin notes that this small software change could help fix that lack of meaningful research. Making data-sharing easier could help medical professionals build a large enough data pool to begin understanding the effects of data collection on our health.