Apple's HealthKit: Use and Privacy

Along with announcing new phones and a smart watch, today Apple also formally launched HealthKit, its software meant to help developers ensure that all of your health and fitness apps work together.

Apple is billing HealthKit as the start of a "healthcare revolution" that, along with the new Health dashboard on the new Apple products, will help users keep better track of diet, exercise, doctor appointments and other health matters. There's a lot of skepticism out there too, of course. Most of my personal skepticism is aimed where HealthKit and the smart watch intersect, but I'm one of those people who could never get into the FitBit either, so maybe that's just me.

There's some interesting research out there about how and whether people will use something like this to really track their health, though.

To coincide with the launch, health and technology expert Susannah Fox tweeted a link to a study she worked on last year at the Pew Research Internet Project showing that 7 in 10 U.S. adults have tracked their own health or someone else's. Of that group, 34 percent said they share their records with others, and half of those people reported sharing the information they've gathered with a doctor, according to Fox and her co-author Maeve Duggan.

Source: Pew Internet

The catch? Fox and Duggan say half of the people tracking their health or someone else's are doing so "in their heads." About a third take things down on paper, and only one-fifth use technology, which may or may not mean an app, depending on the individual.

But Fox tweeted that she believes there is a big market for HealthKit, since 45% of U.S. adults report living with at least one chronic illness and research has shown that tracking one's health can be effective.

There also appear to be privacy concerns, however. Hackers are apparently targeting hospitals for patient information at an alarming rate; one recent study suggested that the number of such attacks has skyrocketed 600 percent in the last 10 months alone. And just days before unveiling its new capabilities for storing your health information, Apple itself was subject to scrutiny in the wake of an iCloud hack that resulted in the release of female celebrities' private nude photos.

Apple later said it wasn't a problem with iCloud, and that hackers had gained access to the celebrities' accounts specifically. But it still warned HealthKit's developers not to store information in the cloud, though explained its reasoning as having more to do with legal standards for how medical data is handled.

Medical data is governed by HIPAA, and an interesting debate has started in the healthcare industry about whether and how software like HealthKit will be compliant. Next Wave Connect is hosting a Twitter chat about this tonight at 8pm CST, using the hashtags #HealthcareChat and #HealthKit. Probably worth checking out if you are interested in healthcare innovations, privacy and/or are considering using Apple's new software.