After transforming the fields of personal computing, digital music, and mobile technology, Apple has set its sights on the next frontier: healthcare. With HealthKit, Apple’s new health tracking platform for iOS 8, wearable devices and mobile health are finally moving into the mainstream. It’s here, and it’s now.
For doctors, patients, and students, this could be a game-changer. Imagine a future where your vital signs, diet, and physical activity are monitored 24/7. Where your primary care physician can review your health behaviors and make constructive recommendations. Where your caregiver can receive a push notification for an abnormal reading and follow up instantly. Where practicing medicine isn’t just about treating disease in the hospital, but ensuring health in the community.
On the heels of its foray into healthcare, Apple’s new ad, “Strength,” presents its vision of the future—one in which a mobile phone isn’t simply an accessory, but an extension of the self. A fitness coach. An activity tracker. A digital repository for everything you are in everything you do, quantified, analyzed, and chronicled.
And while I’m optimistic about the opportunities, I’m also .. not. Because of our health system’s core concerns, Apple customers—the affluent, the young professionals, the tech-savvy, the socially privileged—rank at the bottom. Apple’s ad is empowering, but it’s also disheartening, because it points to a future in which our best efforts are being put towards our mildest challenges.
The conversation about quantified self and mobile health should not center on the needs of wellness-enthusiast yuppies, but about how we can use digital technologies to reach out to those our health system has currently marginalized. The people who need HealthKit the most aren’t the people in this ad, but those who all too-often fall through the health system’s cracks: the frequent flyers, the chronically ill, the uninsured and under-resourced.
Naturally, I can’t expect Apple, Samsung, or Google to concentrate their efforts on these populations anytime soon; after all, there’s no profit motive. But for physicians, social entrepreneurs, and digital health innovators, we have to redirect our efforts to address the challenges where they are most severe.