A digital health entrepreneur’s thoughts on HealthKit

Guest Contributor
June 03, 2014

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This morning, Apple made its much-anticipated move into healthcare with HealthKit (aka, the formerly rumored HealthBook.) With a typically dissonant and ever-growing ecosystem of health apps, devices and data, digital health needs a major player to enter to integrate these products and tools. We’re excited about what the largest company in the world is capable of doing for digital health. Here’s some perspective on what a seasoned digital health entrepreneur had to say about today.

Aaron Rowe
HealthKit is really exciting. Putting all of this information in one place, in a gorgeous app that will reach a ton of people, could do wonders for public health. But it won’t do much good if the on-screen content is designed without input from people who deeply understand health metrics. It looks like Apple or one of its partners made some technical mistakes on a slide that was shown during the big reveal of their new health app.

The slide, which appeared toward the end of the HealthKit segment of today’s WWDC keynote, neatly displays four key metrics for diabetes management: glucose, carbs, walking, and diabetes medication adherence. The numbers and units that Apple used as examples to illustrate their vision don’t make sense. When you measure your glucose with a personal blood sugar meter, it is measured in mg/dL— but the example shown by Apple displayed these numbers in mL/dL. Whoops!

What’s worse, the app screen features an SMS-style message from a particularly photogenic doctor who says, “You’re making great progress with your diet and exercise. Keep it up.” While the graph above this message shows a steady and very unhealthy looking uptrend in the users glucose readings. The current reading shown on the app is 122 “mL/dL”.

“People with a fasting glucose level of 100 to 125 mg/dL have impaired fasting glucose (IFG), or prediabetes,” according to a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. “A level of 126 mg/dL or above, confirmed by repeating the test on another day, means a person has diabetes.

It strikes me as particularly unusual that Apple would make these mistakes, since they are known for their intense attention to detail. Perhaps this kerfuffle happened because none of the folks who were involved with the WWDC keynote know what medical details should look like—is there some disconnect within the group that is building HealthKit?  Have the designers who worked on this screen had enough contact with Apple’s partners at the Mayo Clinic or recently hired health experts? Not long ago, the Cupertino-based company onboarded several noninvasive glucose-monitoring experts from the wearable Raman spectrometer company C8 MediSensors and an early employee of Rock Health’s own Sano Intelligence.

I hope HealthKit will help patients understand and react to the results of every common blood test that is done in the home and medical labs–from cholesterol to creatinine. This could be one of the greatest ways in which Apple can make the world a better place. But they may need to sync internally to refine their understanding of these numbers, before they release this potentially lifesaving product into the wild.

Aaron Rowe is a research director at Integrated Plasmonics, a San Francisco startup that has developed a new class of spectrometer and surface plasmon resonance sensor chips. He and his colleagues are exploring ways to expand the scope of chronic disease management programs, enhance the success of new medications, and increase the usefulness of telemedicine by bringing a wide variety of in vitro diagnostics devices into the home and workplace. You can follow him on Twitter at @soychemist