Why I am Willing to Give Apple my Health Data

on June 18, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

One of the challenges of life, regardless of who you are, is the quest to remain healthy. I admit that in my youth, this was not on the top of my list of things to be concerned with. Even into my thirties, I pretty much lived a life of excess and worked way too many hours and traveled for work without any restrictions on my schedule.

At the age of 35, during an annual physical, I showed signs of high blood pressure and minor heart arrhythmia and was told I needed to change my lifestyle. I was also put on a mild BP drug. As I left that doctor visit I was a bit shocked at this news. I was young and felt invincible. But as I aged, and admittedly, I did not change my lifestyle that much given the warnings I received at age 35, my blood pressure issues got worse, my heart problems accelerated and by age 48, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. At age 62. I had a heart attack and underwent a triple bypass.

From a genetics standpoint, both my mother and father had blood pressure and heart problems and were pre-diabetic in their later years. However, as we now know, genetics only plays a portion of our health destiny while what we eat, our lifestyles and environmental issues have a real impact on our actual health outcomes at any stage of our lives.

While I was growing up, we had very few tools that could help us monitor our health outside of simple things like scales, blood pressure cuffs we could use at home and simple thermometers to read our temperatures. But these days we have home blood testing kits to check for various maladies. We have services that give us our DNA that includes all types of data about potential health problems that may lie ahead. We also have smartwatches and fitness bands that monitor our steps, heart rate and other activities that are then sent to apps like Apple’s Health app that gives us daily readings about various health data points. I even use the Dexcom G6 Continuous Blood Glucose monitoring system that gives me my blood sugar readings 24 hours a day, which I can see at glance on my Apple Watch.

One of the things that these new tech tools for health monitoring has done is given people of all ages many ways to self-check their health and monitor their overall health conditions. I am encouraged that even young people in their teens are using these health monitoring apps and using them early on to try and stay healthy. I am even seeing senior citizens using things like the Apple Watch and fitness bands, although we need to see more of them using these tools in the future as this generation is still a bit tech challenged.

There are many companies in tech that are creating all types of products to keep us healthy and monitor our overall health conditions. However, Apple has taken major leadership role in terms of their aggressive approach of using the iPhone and Apple Watch to monitor and collect health data. More importantly, they have created a set of tools that anonymously send that data to various health researchers, so they can use that data to create better treatments and medications to combat various diseases such as multiple sclerosis, heart disease, concussions, melanoma, Postpartum depression and sleep health for starters.

These tools are HealthKit and ResearchKit.

These tools have three objectives-

  1. Making medial research easier so understanding disease is simpler.

  2. To get more participants into the study so that researchers get more data, which leads to more meaningful results.

  3. Taking research out of the lab and into the real world.

Apple also has another important tool called CareKit, that is a software framework that allows developers to build medically focused apps that track and manage medical care.

As a professional market researcher, I understand how important data is to understand various aspects of the tech market I cover. But the kind of data I look for does not deal with life and death issues in a human sense. On the other hand, medical researchers desperately need as much data and information about a particular disease they are researching in order to better understand it and look for ways to treat it and ultimate defeat the disease altogether.

When Apple introduced the heart study last year, I was one of the first to sign up. As a heart patient for life, I clearly want to have the best solutions for dealing with this disease and if my heart data can help deliver better treatment for all, then I am all in. The data I send to Apple is anonymous and private. Consequently, I did not hesitate to participate in this study. In my discussions with others who have diseases that are tracked via Apple products and HealthKit and ResearchKit, they also seem to be very willing to send that data to researchers via Apple, as they too want to see better ways to treat and possibly cure their particular diseases.

Apple’s role in helping people track their health and then get that data to researchers can’t be underestimated. This is a big deal for Apple and more importantly, health researchers and professionals who need as much help as possible as they tackle the various health issues and diseases they study. I see this as being one of Apple’s greatest callings. In last Septembers keynote, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that “healthcare is big for Apple’s future.”

I had a meeting with the retired CEO of a major health organization a few years back and well before Apple declared their strong commitments to health apps and products. In the meeting, he told me that he had been in talks with Apple about their ways of thinking about future health apps and services. Before he left my office, he made a prediction to me. He said, “Apple will emerge as the major company who will change the face of healthcare.” Given the timing of this meeting, which took place not long after Steve Jobs died, his prediction seems prophetic.

We are still in the early stages of this data impacting current research studies on the various diseases I mentioned above. Because these tools can be applied to all types of health conditions, I expect to see more studies taking advantage of Apple’s various health research tools and apps.

We should all be rooting for Apple to succeed with their health initiatives. Of course, it would be good for their business if they are successful, but it would be a bigger win for mankind if they succeed.