IBM and Apple monitor our health

We first reported IBM and Apple’s JV partnership in our blog of 18th July 2014 with AppleCare for enterprises.

The boom in fitness trackers and health apps has prompted the tech giants to make commercial inroads on the opportunities arising from analytic technologies.  IBM has set up a new health unit to create “a secure, cloud-based data sharing hub” as part of their “employee health and wellness management solutions” with the aim that it will provide diagnoses or health alerts for GPs, carers and insurers in future, with the user’s permission.

IBM aspires to offer greater individual insights into people’s health and to advance this strategy, has bought Explorys (which owns one of the largest healthcare databases in the world) and healthcare specialist Phytel (which works with digital medical record systems to reduce hospital readmissions and automate communications).  Added to this, Apple iPhones provide ResearchKit, free software for gathering health data, which Apple states has already been used to develop apps to study asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

US consumer technology and wearables supplier Jawbone is trying to engage businesses with its fitness trackers as a way to monitor the health of a company’s workforce.  How does this leave the end user/employee?  For a start, if a company sought to monitor the health of an employee, consent has to be given freely, with the ability to withdraw that consent at any time.

Insurers are also keen to get in on the act, with companies like UK’s Vitality offering rewards to policy holders for undergoing certain activities whilst wearing their devices.  Are we reaching the point though where data analytics lead ultimately to cover being withheld, other than premiums going up or down.

The latest UK Government stats show that 61.9% of adults and 28% of children aged between 2 and 15 are overweight with a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.  The cost of health problems associated with being overweight and obese is estimated to cost the NHS more than £5billion every year.

For GPs, gathering data which gives a broader and more accurate picture of exercise undertaken and calories consumed, could alter health directives on the amount of sleep we need, or which exercises are most effective.

Gazing into the NHS’ future, a carrot and stick approach accompanied by bold education messaging for health reform of UK citizens may be the tough approach needed by the next Government.  However, to succeed, with an NHS in crisis on funding and struggling to hold onto its GPs through which the future frontline is directed, many parts of its processes and systems will have to go digital. This comes back to having data shared securely with privacy maintained and strict governance on who it is share by – and that is a big promise to keep.

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