Medical AI has a bright future.
Apple’s focus on health data collected by wearable technology and new capabilities for streaming that data to doctors just guaranteed it.
Imagine your medical professionals getting a detailed live report on your key fitness and health indicators, including cardio fitness, waist circumference, sleep trends, activity levels, blood oxygenation, even nutrition, almost as the data is collected. And, maybe, getting a phone call from your doctor suggesting you take that walk you’ve been putting off for days because, after all, your heart health needs a little attention.
It’s coming to iOS 15, Apple’s upcoming mobile operating system.
Of course, you’ll need an Apple Watch to collect the data, or other apps and hardware for different kinds of health data. And doctors or medical organizations are going to have to develop smart systems — medical AI — to make sense of the flood of incoming data and respond appropriately when threats are detected.
This is one of the major new health features Apple announced today at its World Wide Developers Conference. There’s also the requisite new workout types in Apple Fitness, a new Mindfulness app in WatchOS 8, and new instructors in Fitness+, of course.
But there’s also a major set of new data capabilities.
Some of which are groundbreaking and enable the next generation of integrated health.
There’s new capabilities in hardware and on-device software, such as Apple’s health app in iOS 15. It will capture measurements for walking steadiness, which can be an important health indicator for potentially serious long-term health conditions as well as an immediate risk of falling. The details include speed, stride length, and time spent on both feet. The Health app will also give you better descriptions of lab results, if you’re connected to your medical organization digitally, and importantly, highlight fitness and wellness trends.
Sharing data safely, however, is where the bulk of the innovation is.
You can share data with your health care organization, as mentioned, but also between family members in a new feature called Health Sharing. That means that with permission, you’ll be able to see how your elderly parents are, or connect with kids and get a quick overall picture of family health.
As someone with an aging mother — 85 years young — this can be very, very powerful. Apple’s example: “there’s been a change in Mom’s average resting heart rate” is a good example of what you might want to know.
The data is granular — pick what you want to share — and encrypted.
Which is also true, of course, of data that you choose to share with your health care organization. Apple says it will not be able to see that data flowing between you and your health care provider.
Six medical organizations have so far committed to supporting the new sharing capabilities, and others will presumably be joining.
This feature primarily is what will help create the next generation of integrated health, with at least six components:
- Technology capture: Wearable tech for personal health monitoring
- Personal motivation: Personal notifications and motivation to improve health and wellness
- Social engagement: High-level sharing of health data with family and friends
- Data science: Detailed sharing of streaming health data to trusted medical organizations, merging with data from trusted medical sources like lab results, and a high-level analysis of that data
- Medical AI: Smart systems monitoring your ongoing health data, analyzing it for anomalies or issues, and alerting doctors or you when necessary
- Healthcare professionals: Highlights and interventions by doctors, nurses, dietitians, and others
There’s no way individual doctors will be able to assimilate the stream of incoming data alone, so health care organizations will be forced to significantly develop their data processing and predictive system to understand the data and make decisions based on it in near real-time. Which means medical AI, essentially: health care organizations will need to develop medical AIs to continuously monitor your health indicators and notify a doctor or nurse — or you directly — if something concerning pops up.
In jurisdictions where you have health care choice, data science and AI capabilities will soon be an important factor in choosing a health care provider. And countries with national and regional health care systems will want to develop similar capabilities.
Much of this is available piecemeal today. Apple is putting it in one big package, wrapping a bow on it, and presenting it to the world.
There are still many questions, of course:
- Privacy: can you trust Apple? Can you trust your health care organization?
- Equity: how can we ensure all have the same opportunities for health?
- Efficacy: will this ultimately result in better health care outcomes? What if we can’t develop great data and AI systems that can understand all of this data? How will doctors cope with the flood of new information?
But I think we’re seeing the future of health unveiled in beta.