Back in June, we wrote about Apple’s Health app and Healthkit platform, noting that it could be the first step towards a universal, easily accessible, and secure electronic health record. Health was launched with iOS 8, Apple’s new version of their operating system for mobile devices, in September; here’s a quick update on what Health and HealthKit are and what they can do.

The Health App is an Aggregator

Apple’s Health app is a centerpiece of iOS 8: a new meta-app to organize, aggregate information from, and tie together all your other health-related apps. If you have a fitness band that tracks your runs, a diet app where you record your meals, a sleep tracker, and perhaps a blood-sugar monitor for diabetes, Health lets you access all that information in one place.

The app itself is simple. A Health Data tab shows all of your medical statistics, compiled from other apps and sensors, as well as some that you input manually. There are countless pieces of information that can be included, from basics like age and weight to consumption of a particular vitamin and caloric balance. A Sources tab keeps track of which apps are providing the information. The Dashboard displays just the data you choose to pin there, graphed nicely over time.

Reducing the Need for Generalization

Perhaps more importantly, it allows each of these apps to make use of the information provided by the others. “When your health and fitness apps work together, they become more powerful,” boasts Apple’s description. “And you might, too.” Corny as it sounds, it’s true—at least the first part.

Any entity, human or machine, seeking to analyze health must make assumptions about the patient. The medical community assumes that one 48 year old women who weighs 150 pounds will be like others meeting the same description whom they have encountered in the past. Apps do this to an even greater degree—a fitness app that tells you how many calories you burned in a 4 mile run is assuming that you are very similar to other people fitting your general attributes in how you burn calories. The more specific information can be incorporated into apps algorithms, the more individualized and precise (and hopefully accurate) the results can be.

This feature also saves you the time required to enter general information manually into each new app. And if you want to keep certain details private, or you can control exactly what information is available to each app.

Medical ID, the final tab, might be the most useful initially. It stores information that you would want available to medical professionals in an emergency and makes it available without unlocking your phone, if you wish. Allergies, medications, conditions, medical contacts—all the details those practicing emergency medicine usually need but so rarely get.

HealthKit Will Power Integration

HealthKit is a developer platform that in theory allows other apps to tie into the Health framework easily in order to feed information into it, to access information from other apps, and to make use of Health’s security capabilities. Bugs in HealthKit were discovered early in the launch of iOS 8, and all HealthKit-dependent apps were temporarily put on hold. A week later, they tried again—and pulled the apps again.

In the interim, without other apps to feed off, Health was not particularly useful. Recently, however, a few HealthKit compatible apps have been released, allowing users to start to aggregate their information. Initially, this is unlikely to create an overwhelmingly different experience, as the apps are being updated primarily for formatting and convenience, without the ability to make much use of the vast new supply of data. In the future, however, third party apps and Health itself could find those new, powerful ways to make use of such a flood of information.

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