Never mind Apple HealthKit, Canada needs a health app store
Note: This post originally appeared on Transigram. It has been reposted here with permission from the author.
Many Apple users are already familiar with a variety of consumer health and wellness apps, most of which focus on exercise and diet. Available apps are targeted towards goals such as losing weight, eating healthier, avoiding allergens or gluten, and monitoring alcohol consumption. HealthKit, Apple’s latest health offering, promises to make all of these apps work together for you, with an easy-to-read dashboard showing your health and ﬁtness data from various apps. Technically speaking, HealthKit is a tool for app developers to support the integration of health apps into a single interface. It is being marketed as the beginning of a consumer health revolution.
Canada’s health innovation opportunity
HealthKit has been designed to help individuals manage their own health and fitness without the involvement of healthcare providers. This is a significant missed opportunity. Mobile health initiatives have shown that mobile apps can be a very useful tool for healthcare: for example, adapted mobile devices have been used to track blood sugar, heart rate and other health indicators for patients with chronic health conditions that need to be monitored by a medical professional. A post-surgery app is being designed to help monitor patients discharged from hospital as they recover at home. In some hospitals, physicians use tablet applications to access and manage electronic medical records. But for the most part, there has been a divide between the world of apps and the world of healthcare.
The scope of mobile health projects has so far been limited by technical and logistical barriers. Any mobile applications adopted by healthcare professionals have to comply with healthcare privacy regulations, which require secure and confidential transmission and storage of personal health information. Just as importantly, any applications that deal with serious health issues need to be designed with input from medical professionals.
While commercial apps can be used to provide generic fitness or diet advice, apps related to serious conditions such as diabetes or heart disease should be supported by medical professionals who are available to respond to users’ questions and concerns on an individual basis. Since usually only applications developed by healthcare organizations meet these standards, these organizations then have to take on the responsibility of managing and updating the applications, providing technical support for users, and managing storage, access and use of the data generated. Healthcare providers may appreciate the benefits of mobile applications, but most do not want to provide operational support for apps.
From HealthKit to a health app store
Is it possible to bridge the divide between unregulated commercial health and fitness apps and the highly regulated healthcare environment? We would suggest that it is, and that the pathway is not a HealthKit but a Health Store. Kits, development environments and similar tools provide a base for the development of diverse applications, but do not enforce common standards.
Instead of building a single product, be the market for them all. An app store, on the other hand, screens apps for required features such as conformance and quality. A health app store could provide a range of applications with central management of quality and regulatory compliance. In the Canadian context of public healthcare, a publicly regulated health app store could bridge the private-public divide.
Apps would be developed by a lab backed with industry funding and innovation but governed by each provincial or territorial health ministry. This would provide a variety of privately managed health apps that are based on medical expertise, generate high-quality health information, and meet privacy and security standards—in short, applications that healthcare providers could trust.
Provincial health ministries are searching for solutions to support illness prevention, home healthcare and better management of chronic conditions. Mobile applications that meet health systems standards have a great potential to help healthcare professionals help their patients manage their own health outside of traditional settings. Innovation in healthcare applications matters for individuals and businesses alike. We are calling on innovators to step up and develop disruptive solutions that change the game as opposed to playing it well. A privately-driven, publicly-governed Health Store for healthcare apps just might be the way to realize this possibility.
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Waël Hassan, PhD, is the editor in chief and lead writer of Transigram, an online monthly magazine. Transigram explores legislative and regulatory changes, new technologies, and the needs and challenges of data custodians provides insight into the development of our approaches to open data access strategies and models. See more…