How Apple is giving people more power over their health data
A new report shows how Apple products are helping users, developers, and health organizations improve research, care, and personal health.
Today, Apple released a new report that gives an overview of how Apple products help people take control of their health and act as smart watchdogs for their health and safety. Users, developers, medical institutions, and health organizations all over the world are using Apple devices, features, and APIs to break down barriers between people and their health information while keeping privacy in mind.
Apple’s efforts to improve health can be broken down into two main groups, which are described in two different parts of the report. In the first section, we talk about how Apple focuses on health and fitness features on the Apple Watch and iPhone that give users actionable, science-based insights and help keep them safe and healthy. In the second part, we talk about what Apple is doing to help medical research and care. Both sections, as well as the Extensions and Spotlights section at the end of the report, show how third-party developers, health institutions, and other organizations are using Apple technology to do new things.
“We strongly believe that technology can help improve health outcomes and encourage people to live healthier lives,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “We are excited to see how our users are benefiting from our health and fitness features and how third-party developers, institutions, and organizations are using Apple technology to advance health and science.” “Our vision for the future is to keep making science-based technology that gives people even more information and acts as an intelligent guardian for their health, so they’re no longer just passengers on their own health journey. Instead, we want people to be in charge and have meaningful insights they can use.
Putting users in charge of their own health journeys
Since the Health app and Apple Watch came out in 2014 and 2015, Apple has added a lot of new health and fitness features. The goal is to give users easy-to-understand, useful information so they can be motivated to live healthier lives. The report breaks down Apple’s health and fitness features into four main parts: 1) Giving users a central and safe place to store and look at their health data in the Health app; 2) Giving Apple Watch features that make it an intelligent guardian of users’ health; 3) Giving users features that help them improve their everyday health and fitness for better health outcomes, and 4) Giving developers tools to help them make new health and fitness apps.
With the release of iOS 16 and watchOS 9 this fall, the Apple Watch and iPhone will have features that focus on 17 areas of health and fitness, such as heart health, sleep, mobility, women’s health, and more. Customers of all ages have told us over the years how these health and fitness features have changed their lives. Several customers tell their stories in the report. These include people who found out they had serious heart problems, needed emergency help after a fall, or dramatically improved their health by being more active every day.
Users can now store over 150 different types of health data from Apple Watch, iPhone, and connected third-party apps and devices in one central place in the Health app. They can also access health records data from connected institutions in the US, UK, and Canada. There are now tens of thousands of apps on the App Store that use the HealthKit API. This lets developers use data that users choose to share from the Health app to create new health and fitness experiences that follow strict privacy and data security rules. The report shows examples of globally popular HealthKit-enabled apps like Nike Run Club, Calm, and WeightWatchers. It also shows how an increasing number of HealthKit-enabled apps, like Qardio heart health and Withings Health Mate, use connected accessories to let users track and monitor even more aspects of their health.
By working with the medical community, we can help the health ecosystem.
Apple thinks that direct collaboration with the medical community is the only way to make the best health innovations, and the report describes four types of this collaboration: 1) Creating tools to help scientists make new scientific discoveries, 2) Using meaningful data to help strengthen the relationship between doctors and patients, 3) Working with health organizations to promote healthy lifestyles on a large scale, and 4) Helping public health and government initiatives.
Researchers can find people to take part in studies from a large number of iPhone and Apple Watch users, and those people can choose to share their health data to help science move forward. Through the Research app, Apple has teamed up with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association, and the University of Michigan and the World Health Organization to give people in the US the chance to take part in three first-of-their-kind research studies: the Apple Women’s Health Study, the Apple Heart and Movement Study, and the Apple Health Study. Early findings from the studies are included in the report, along with information about other studies that Apple has helped funds, such as the Heart Failure Study with University Health Network and the Digital Mental Health Study with UCLA.
Health Records on the iPhone’s Health app and apps and devices made by third parties using Apple developer tools can help strengthen the relationship between a doctor and a patient by giving them useful information. Health Records is now available to patients at over 800 institutions and over 12,000 locations. This makes it easy for patients to see their available medical data from multiple providers in the Health app whenever they want. Research has shown that connecting patients remotely with their care teams leads to better outcomes. The Corrie Health app, the UVA Health care at home programs, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs lending Apple devices to veterans to connect them with their VA healthcare services are all examples of this. At Ochsner Health System and NHS Sunderland, care teams are better able to help patients with chronic conditions. Remote monitoring is reducing the cost and length of stays in the neonatal intensive care units at Odense University Hospital and the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, where premature babies can go home with their parents but still stay in touch with care teams.
Health organizations and companies all over the world, like Paceline in the US, Vitality Active Rewards in the US, UK, South Africa, and Australia, and LumiHealth in Singapore, have worked with Apple to add Apple Watch to their wellness programs. There are currently 55 incentive programs using Apple Watch running in 17 countries, with more than a million users taking part. People who took part in these programs got more active and started doing healthy things, like trying to sleep at the same time every night, practicing mindfulness, and switching to healthier foods.
Lastly, the report talks about how Apple has worked with doctors and local governments to find new ways to help them do their important work to improve public health, such as building apps and features during the COVID-19 health crisis.
Based on science and made with privacy in mind
All of Apple’s health and fitness features were made with two big ideas in mind:
Rigorous scientific validation processes: The clinicians who work for Apple are very involved in the process of making new products. They work closely with engineers and product designers. Together with working with experts from top research institutions, this makes sure that the products and features are based on science and are easy to use.
The most important thing:
Privacy is a core value at Apple, and sensitive health data needs to be kept private. Apple’s health and fitness features put the user’s privacy at the center and offer protections, such as transparency and control, to keep the user’s information safe. When an iPhone is locked with a passcode, Touch ID, or Face ID, all health and fitness data in the Health app, except for Medical ID, is encrypted. Any health data synced to iCloud is encrypted both in transit and on Apple’s servers. And if a user has a recent version of watchOS and iOS with two-factor authentication and a passcode, Apple won’t be able to read their health and activity data. Health app data is never shared with a third party without the user’s permission. If a user does decide to share their health data, the Health app gives them a lot of control over what data they share and who they share it with. They can look at permissions at any time and make changes to them.