13 Oct 2014

Health, Big Data and Apple

Health data, if collected, analyzed and predicted correctly, can be enormous benefit to society but it warrants utmost care in terms of privacy and accuracy. It can help in provisioning timely help, bring the heath care costs down and above all, make users health conscious- A major concern for developing and advanced nations alike. This is a problem that many tech companies have attempted to solve in past and failed. For example Google shut down its Health Platform in early 2013.

If we break it down, there are four parts to applying analytical and predictive technologies to health ..

  • Digital data collection through connected sensors (devices)
  • Data security and portability
  • Ability to share selected data sets to big data applications we trust.
  • Letting applications use our data for specific predictive or analytic usage.

Apple has nailed the first three parts.

We can collect and store our health data on iPhone. More secure than a paper file. As more and more sensors become available, our ability to collect health data would increase exponentially.

Data is stored on iPhone, not accessible to any other application without our permission. Even Apple can’t see our data. We can choose to back it up to #iCloud (only with encrypted backup) if we like to do so. Benefits of backing up to iCloud is portability of data in case we decide to change the device.

We can choose to share specific data items with applications. For example I am sharing my movement activity with #WebMD. It’s important for users to know and understand that Apple won’t have control on your data once you share this with third party applications.

Apple is leaving out the analytics and predictive work to third party experts whom we trust and who build their credibility over coming times.Apple Health kit is a set of tools for both device builders and health apps to integrate themselves with Apple Health platform.

I think, after search and social, this is the next horizon of technology. Done right, it’s obviously a great step forward for humanity.

Update - Jan 2017

Google has started ‘Google Fit’ as a Android based health kit. Microsoft has started ‘MS Health Vault’. Given the importance of health market it’s very encouraging to see tech giants invest heavily in this space. Both Google and Microsft initiatives are more or less same blueprint as that of Apple. Meanwhile the health tracking devices have exploded in last two years. Fitbit is the only noteable standalone player that doesn’t integrate with Apple Health though it has its own independent app for iOS and Android.