An Apple for Health

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News October 2014

This installment of Tech Talk is most appropriate for iPhone owners, or people thinking about buying one, because it’s about a new health app in Apple’s iOS 8 operating system.

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Don’t stop reading if you’re not an iPhone owner or aren’t into Apple products — you can use any smartphone to help live a healthier life.

How Are You?

The new app from Apple is simply called Health, but it’s far from simple when it comes to what this software can do for you.

Health makes it easy to read all your health and fitness data. Apple bills this feature as really being able to answer the age-old question “How are you?” with a data-driven, accurate answer.

Various health and fitness gadgets are great at collecting data on your heart rate, calories burned, cholesterol and more. The new Health app makes it possible to store all that data in one place.

The information is viewable on what’s called the dashboard and is accessible with a tap of your finger. You control what information is being tracked and what’s displayed on the dashboard.

Empowering Patients

This new app continues a technology trend of putting health right in the palm of your hand. Many medical professionals are happy to see this movement.

“At my first look, I am encouraged because I think that it parallels our VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) initiatives to provide alternatives to face-to-face delivery of health care,” says Doug T. Ota, MD, acting chief of staff for the spinal-cord injury (SCI) unit at the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System in California.

Ota says the Apple Health app is similar in concept to the VA’s Care Coordination Home Telehealth (CCHT) program. The program delivers health care at home via photos or video when it’s not necessary or practical for a patient to travel. Ota believes Health is helping patients and doctors work together.

“What I especially like about the concept of this application is that it can empower and help patients take ownership of their own health,” Ota says. “By using the data from the application, individuals can engage in a partnership with their health care providers to manage their own health care.”

Healthy Connections

A key feature of the app is its ability to connect and gather data from other Bluetooth-enabled fitness-and-health-tracking devices and apps as well as share that information (if you choose) with health care providers.

Called HealthKit, you could allow your blood pressure data to be automatically shared with your doctor. Mayo Clinic partnered with Apple in developing this portion of the app. It’s possible other medical facilities such as the VA could also accept the data, but Ota says there are issues to be addressed first.

“Security is the real issue here. The government is under great scrutiny and is very concerned about protecting the privacy of all the patients that we serve,” he says. “For instance, we can only use secure messaging to engage in email conversations with patients. I would think that it would take quite an effort and much time before linking an application like this into our health care system.”

HealthKit also allows apps and devices that provide health and fitness services to share their data with the new Health app and with each other. Apple announced a partnership earlier this year that allows Nike+ apps using the Nike Fuelband to share information with Health.

Emergency Information

Communicating with health care providers is important, but it can be even more vital during an emergency and Health helps there, too.

You can create an emergency information card with important health data, such as your blood type or allergies, that’s available right from your lock screen. Ota says “portable medical records or medical IDs” can provide a lot of information.

Ota thinks patients with SCI might want to include prescriptions on Health’s emergency card (or any other type of medical ID) such as Baclofen. Failing to take or suddenly stopping this medication could lead to seizures.

He also suggests listing a history of severe urinary tract infections or seizures, a history of overheating or sensitivity to temperature drops, an advanced health care directive, and contact information for family or SCI-related health care providers.

No App Needed

Even if you don’t have an iPhone, any type of smartphone can be used to help manage your own health; you don’t need a special app.

Use a calendar to set reminders and notifications to exercise regularly. Set hourly reminders to take a break from the computer, take medications, or to drink enough water. Whatever the case, take charge of your own health.

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