Providers: Apple Watch, HealthKit intriguing for patient care, but challenges persist

As Apple looks to team with provider organizations and other health technology vendors on efforts relating to its forthcoming HealthKit platform and its new wearable device, Apple Watch, it will be interesting to see how much traction it gains among clinicians.

To that end, we queried our FierceHealthIT Editorial Advisory Board for their thoughts on Apple's new offerings. Here's what six of our advisers had to say:

Roger Neal, vice president and CIO, Duncan (Oklahoma) Regional Hospital (pictured right): Ultimately, as a geek, I really like stuff like that for myself. But, my professional techie persona is trying to figure out how to make it all work in our new healthcare world. Some of these systems are capturing more and more relevant information that would be wonderful to have in a patient's global chart, but trying to get at that data securely, import it somewhere and store all of it on patient after patient scares me. Where is it all going to go and how are we going to make it all work securely and privately together?

I think at some point, a lot of this information will be more relevant for healthcare than today. We'll get there and the sophisticated tracking and monitoring via watch, wristband, clothing or whatever will play a part in that. I think on the population wellness front, these types of tools can be of great use if you can co-manage all the data coming in on hundreds or thousands of patients.

The drawback right now is that these are all new and will need some time to grow up to really provide highly useful information; the back end systems will have to evolve to handle that data across multiple mediums to a point that healthcare professionals can analyze and get at that data to interpret it successfully on each patient.

Joseph Kvedar, director, Partners HealthCare's Center for Connected Health (pictured left): Our experience is that you need the right analytics to drive personalization to keep people engaged. So, if HealthKit turns out to be just another place to store health-related data--moving from a Web application to a smartphone--I really don't think it will achieve widespread adoption. We've also seen limited success for other smartwatches. The trick here is to create what I call a "frictionless" user experience. It also has to be aesthetically pleasing, for someone to want to wear it on their wrist every day.

One of the barriers to adoption is that we haven't yet given individuals enough of a reason to store all of their health data on one platform. Add to that the fact that people don't feel compelled to take ownership of their health data. HealthKit will overcome some of these barriers. However, without focusing on engagement--making it personal, motivation and ubiquitous--I fear no device, smartphone or app will achieve widespread adoption.

We know that after about six months, most trackers end up in a drawer. At the Center for Connected Health, we're learning a great deal about how to empower individuals to self-manage their health, and what providers need to do with all of this patient-generated data. The one critical element we must get right, is figuring out how to "sell" health to consumers and keep them coming back for more.

Indranil Ganguly, VP and CIO, JFK Health System in Edison, New Jersey (pictured right): Engaging the consumer is the emerging challenge for us as CIOs. Usability and perceived value are keys to getting consumer engagement, and few organizations are as successful with usability as Apple is. The interesting question will be the perceived value by the consumers. 

I think products and services like HealthKit represent the first serious round of consumer facing tools that may serve as a front end to a new model for patient/provider/payer interaction.

Todd Richardson, senior vice president and CIO, Aspirus, Inc. in Wausau, Wisconsin (pictured left): Our single biggest challenge as we push forward with population health management is the engagement of the patient. Without this engagement, we will struggle as systems and providers to move the needle. Hopefully as these types of products and technologies emerge, along with things like the Jawbone and Fitbit, society will become more in-tune and engaged with health management and we can improve the overall health of the communities we serve.

I see tons of potential, but like other technologies, it will follow the Technology S-curve.

Steven Steinhubl, director of Digital Medicine, Scripps Translational Science Institute (pictured right): I think what we saw from Apple was barely a glimpse of their potential in healthcare. I looked at it as a nice introduction to hardware that has great future potential for mobile health applications. The security and privacy focus by Apple was especially important.

It's too early to say if there will be any immediate impact on the health industry, although I think that is unlikely. However I'm 100 percent sure that what Apple is bringing to the table, in concert with what other tech giants like Samsung, Intel, Microsoft, Google and others are doing, all support that the healthcare industry is in store for some radically transformational changes in the next few years.

Matt Hawkins, pediatric interventional radiologist, Emory University in Atlanta (pictured left): My concern with wearables is that healthy people will wear them and unhealthy people will not. Similar to how good drivers use driving tracking devices but bad drivers do not.

Unless people are forced to wear them--people choosing to wear them will be secondary to their primary state of health. Primarily wearing them is unlikely to drive a healthier state of life secondarily.

Cynical--I know.