Doctors Worry Over Apple HealthKit

Larry Alton

Apple has already drummed up some great beta reviews for HealthKit, but not all doctors are on board. Specifically, Dr. Dushan Gunasekera and Dr. Rakesh Kapila are speaking out about potential risks and dangers HealthKit might bring on-board. Kapila is a private doctor in London at the South Kensington GP Clinic and Dr. Gunasekera is now a financial advisor but previously graduated from St. Bartholomew's Hospital. He currently has his own practice at myHealthCare Clinic in London.

Doctors in all practices are raising concerns about HealthKit. It's the generalization and accuracy (or alleged lack thereof) that's most concerning. Gunasekera says, "One thing that is a problem is the purported accuracy of the data. Whilst having this data could be of use, a doctor is unable to guarantee that whichever blood pressure monitor, glucose monitor or fitness tracker a patient is using will be accurate. Because of this, it's unlikely that we'll ever be at a point where a doctor will take a look at your phone and be able to give you a diagnosis."

Self-diagnosing on steroids

Much like patients who head to online self-diagnosing websites instead of seeing an actual doctor, this can lead to wrong diagnoses, a lack of preventative care, feeding hypochondria, and encouraging patients to wait out symptoms that might need immediate treatment. Dr. Kapila says, "The app needs to be programmable in an individual way specific for the patient with individual limits set." He gives an example of a professional athlete who might have a freakishly low resting heart rate, which the app may not recognize as normal for this person, but an actual doctor would of course recognize why there's a disparity. Without being able to consider a person's complete condition, diagnosing is impossible.

Dr. Gunasakera says, "Apple Health will almost certainly affect the mentality of patients, however whether it will make them more paranoid or more aware is less clear." He notes that some patients will likely get paranoid or stressed when their figures don't "add up" as they'd like, and whether or not data is being analyzed correctly can't be guaranteed. Plus, add in the fact that many people avoid going to the doctor for fear of cost or general discomfort, and HealthKit might provide a reason for patients to see their doctors even less.

Feeding the ego

According to Dr. Gunasakera, "Those people that do focus on their health often do think they are healthier than they actually are. The mere act of inputting information about oneself into a tracker is psychologically very reassuring." Doctors are also concerned about privacy and data protection with HealthKit. Even though medical records are becoming increasingly electronic, the ownership of the data isn't clear.

However, even with these concerns, many doctors also see great potential benefits of Apple's latest offering, which will be available this autumn. In particular, diabetes management has received glowing reviews from the medical community. "There are tiny monitors that can be implanted under the skin that can track blood glucose that could then be tracked using something like Apple HealthKit," says Gunasekera. This could completely make the ordeal of pin prick checks moot. Phones could then alert patients when blood sugar levels go out of range, leading to a better lifestyle for diabetics.

Since diabetes is the fastest growing chronic disease in the U.S., this could potentially benefit millions of Americans. Another potential benefit of HealthKit is for pregnant women who could use constant monitoring of heart rates, eating habits, and other check-ins throughout their pregnancy. Sleep apnea, COPD, and asthma patients are also prime patients who may benefit from HealthKit. As the launch date nears, doctors remain wary but hopeful.