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iOS 8 & HealthKit: A Developer’s Perspective

Senior Web Developer

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This year’s Apple Worldwide Developer Conference keynote did not disappoint. Promises from Cupertino included a new programming language for iOS devices, Android-style inter-app communication, and unified systems for both health and smart home management. Keith Liu, VP Klick Labs, wrote up his initial impressions of the presentation, and we would recommend you give it a read through.

One of the aspects that differentiated this year’s presentation from previous years is the focus on developers. In the Klick Lab, we’ve downloaded the preview version of iOS 8, and have started testing out HealthKit. While we cannot comment on specific functionality due to confidentiality agreements, I can say that this technology has the possibility of revolutionizing how patients manage their health and interact with their healthcare providers.

Apple’s introduction of inter-app communication opens the doors for larger data-driven applications across multiple iOS apps. The HealthKit API means a simplified, standardized, and Apple-organized effort toward a unified iOS health system. It provides a centralized data store and API (Application Programming Interface) system for the hundreds of iPhone health apps and devices on the market. Standardization is as important in this space as it is in old-fashioned engineering; one cannot create an effective rail system if companies do not design their trains to fit a specific width and gauge of railroad. This will mean that your fitness tracker could leverage calorie data from any food tracking app that implements the standardized data sharing system.

HealthKit data and privacy options are centrally accessible from the simply-named iOS app “Health.” Users can view their data in Health using helpful graphs to understand their progression over time for each data type such as calories burned or sleep habits.

Apple iOS 8 HealthKit

As privacy is always a concern, Apple has set it up so that a user must flip a switch to open the lines of communication for every type of data from every app or device. While this may seem tedious, it really is a simple action, which will give users full control and oversight of what information is shared where.

Apple’s two-hour presentation also laid out a few examples of the interactions between third party health applications and HealthKit. Apple promised that the Mayo Clinic app would have the technology to listen to blood pressure readings shared to HealthKit. These readings could come from the Health app or from any other third-party application. From there, the Mayo Clinic app could send a notification to the patient’s HCP if the readings are outside of an acceptable level as defined by the patient’s personal health plan.

If nothing else, HealthKit and the Health app will be empowering for patients as they will have simple yet comprehensive tools at their fingertips to better understand a fuller picture of their health. It will also facilitate a growing data set with limitless possibilities.

Possible Futures with HealthKit

As an example, one could imagine an app developed for a clinical trial for a sleep aid drug. Patients would log their sleep in the Health app or in their third-party app of choice, and the clinical trial app could be set to send that information back to the researchers. Additionally, external factors could be considered if the user chooses to record and share that data: do they have a balanced diet? Are they exercising at the correct time? Is their blood-pressure within normal parameters?

One could also imagine a healthcare provider examining historic data for a patient: how was their sleep one week ago? One year ago? Are there seasonal patterns? Depending on what data the user chooses to record, HealthKit could provide a wealth of information that was previously inaccessible.

Potential iOS Medical ID Card

As of writing this post, we are waiting on full HealthKit framework documentation. Looking forward, I am excited to see whether new metrics will be adopted. For example, a patient tracking their mental health might be able to record their emotions throughout the day, which could help them or their healthcare providers identify patterns.

Another example might be medication schedule adherence. One could do away with plastic “pill calendars,” and instead have a to-the-minute record of medication with intelligent reminders that work around your schedule. Like to sleep in on the weekends? The notification could be scheduled later on weekends or holidays.

As a developer, I find HealthKit exciting. If any company has the proven track record of rallying developers and users around new standards, it’s Apple. As of last year’s WWDC, Apple reported that 240 million users were playing games developed with Apple’s Game Center framework. This year, 89% of all iOS devices in the world are on iOS 7. If these user and developer adoption trends persist, we could see Apple’s health framework running on apps in millions of pockets very soon.

Image source: Apple

More About the Author

Andrew Carreiro

Andrew Carreiro is a Senior Web Developer at Klick Health, building new experiences through technology. He has pioneered new systems for Veeva iRep development, built e-learning applications for multinational banks, and designed networked systems for offices and trade shows.

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