DUPLICATE Can an Apple HealthKit Today Keep the Doctor Away?

We need to remove manual inputs and open up networks to make connected healthcare a reality

Has Apple, with its announcement of HealthKit, taken a pivotal step into the future of connected health? I’m not convinced. Apple’s approach is a grab bag of tools for building apps to help you live a healthier lifestyle. But for these devices and apps to truly change health and fitness, it all needs to be connected.

The healthcare industry is in need of a cohesive API strategy if it wants to advance to ‘Healthcare 2.0’. At the current level of connectivity in personal health, manual correlation of information is the norm. We have to manually cross-reference our pedometer app against our food diary app in our efforts to lose weight, for example. The pedometer can’t communicate with the food diary to track calories burned, and manual comparison is disjointed, time consuming and vulnerable to the frailties of human memory.   

If you don’t know, Apple launched a set of APIs on iOS 8 called ‘HealthKit,’ which sets out to break down the barriers between your health-monitoring apps. It’s a great concept with a noble goal, but even HealthKit is merely one “mega” app, another silo for a new set of information. We have many devices that collect data about our health and exercise but there is not yet any integration in the healthcare system, where that data could have the biggest impact.

Just a Bunch of Things?

From the Fuelband to the UP, Healthcare devices have hit the market en masse, boosting the number of connected devices known together as the Internet of Things (IoT). But these ‘connected’ devices don’t actually connect to anything other than your iPhone. This is what I call ‘just a bunch of things’ (JBOT), in contrast to the infamous IoT, and it is the rudimentary connectivity state that we have today.

The Bigger Picture: The Health of Collaboration

The problem is that we can collect data about what we eat, how well we sleep and when we exercise but this information is not connected to our medical records or our doctors.  There is only one way of sharing more and innovating faster, and that is through a more open and integrated approach through APIs.

This approach has already proven profitable. Fortune 500 enterprises are already using APIs to open new billion-dollar revenue channels. For example, it’s been reported that at Expedia an API generates over $1.5bn in annual travel bookings. The UK government has followed suit with open data initiatives making government services available through APIs. In healthcare we need to close the gap between healthcare and non-healthcare systems and between on-premise and cloud systems.  To enable the flow of information, these systems need to be connected.

The Keeper of the Keys?

But there is another catch. Even if the NHS, Apple and the devices that collect the data were to fully realise the importance of connectivity, intelligent healthcare will only be ubiquitous as and when we can balance the conflict between privately and publicly owned data. How will we start consistently saving the lives of cardiac patients through intelligent connectivity in healthcare if the company that has created the heart rate monitor doesn’t share the data?

Indeed, even Apple’s release of HealthKit is tempered by the fact that there are currently no standards to prevent Apple from claiming legitimate control over all information exchanged through its APIs. The thinking around data collection and distribution has to evolve in sync with the technology doing the tracking.

Towards Connected Healthcare

The key to going from JBOT to IoT is to start with small constellations and work up. Uber, for example, has created a global network of thousands of real-time monitored things (cars in this case) for the sole reason of solving a specific transportation problem. Via an app which communicates with the cars through its APIs, your phone can make intelligent decisions about which of the available cars to send for you. 

For us to move into an age of the truly 'Connected Healthcare' rather than today's manual monitoring and reporting, we have to find ways to enable better connectivity. First, we need to be able to open up data through APIs. Without that, all we have is a bunch of things.


Ross Mason is founder and vice president of product strategy at MuleSoft, the integration platform company. Building on the open source Mule project he had created three years earlier, he founded MuleSoft in 2006 on the idea that connecting applications should be easy.