iPhone & iWatch tracking apps for health

Blog: Health

— Hugh Adams 

Apple health app data

Apple’s new iPhone and iWatch tracking apps for healthcare have been received as a boon for researchers. It offers the chance to recruit patients easily as there is little effort and repeat trips to research facilities for monitoring. Sign-up and get tracked to do your bit for science. Sounds fantastic and I hope it will be.

Innovation and change always come with challenges. How these are addressed will decide how useful such a technology can be to the medical community. The list of challenges is huge, but a few blog size thoughts include:

Population demographics: Who will use the iWatch is yet to be seen, will it remain in the tech gadget domain or transition across to the wider population. Men and women are different physiologically and from a results standpoint it does matter how this is broken down. As, of course, are the many more granular details of how, health status, insurance, lifestyle, income, drinking habits and a countless list of other variables all influence health. Could there even be a difference between your average Apple user differ from your average Android user?

Would I lie to you: Yes. It’s common for patients to lie to medical staff and even in anonymous surveys about their habits. Whether that’s out of embarrassment, trying to justify a behavior or responding in a way they think they’re meant to. This isn’t a specific problem to this new tech but will it be harder to discover who is not quite telling the truth in their upfront data.

In a significant plus side for the devices, if you’re tracking movement or heart rate, there is a much lower chance of false reporting clouding results compared to a participant reporting their activity.

The Good Samaritan: Some people are naturally inclined to want to help. Is it possible that what will form is a relatively small pool of well-meaning users who are repeatedly participating in trials. Could the end result of this be that we start to find that all the results agree because all the participants are the same?

These aren’t new challenges, but how they are tackled will matter and people are no doubt thinking through the challenges already. It would be excellent to see this picked up and the data it produces providing real insights in to health and diseases. An initial step could be holding a forum to implement a structured international study guidelines for the use and reporting of data being collected to ensure it is controlled and helps to provide valuable research. 

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