Software

How doctors and patients might benefit from these Apple updates

Find out how Group FaceTime, Siri Shortcuts, Apple Watch improvements, and privacy updates could solve some healthcare headaches.

Improved privacy controls was a big news story from the WWDC 2018 keynote. With iOS 12, Safari will prevent Share buttons and comment widgets on webpages from tracking users without your permission. The Safari update also will make it harder for advertisers to track a device's "fingerprint" to retarget ads.

One announcement related to data and health didn't make it to the keynote stage: Apple has made it easier for people to share their health data with researchers and app developers. Apple has extended its privacy philosophy to this new feature as well, according to the press release:

"Health Records data is encrypted on iPhone and protected with the consumer's iPhone passcode. When consumers choose to share their health record data with trusted apps, the data flows directly from HealthKit to the third-party app and is not sent to Apple's servers."

This is exactly the right approach. People will be more likely to trust Apple with their personal health info if they know that the information is not being sold to third parties to push drugs and devices.

SEE: Privacy policy (Tech Pro Research)

This is not the only important Apple news for the healthcare world. Several updates to the phone and watch operating systems have the potential to solve communication challenges for patients and doctors and maybe even make healthcare a little more efficient.

Group FaceTime could be a game changer in hospitals

This announcement didn't require a "This is really cool!" nudge from the speaker to get a reaction from the audience. It's hard to imagine that anyone would hit the 32 person limit in the new Group FaceTime feature, but a hospital care team meeting could come close.

Assembling the care team is always a challenge, particularly for people with complex conditions. The challenge of getting several doctors in the same place at the same time is so great that many people are too intimidated to try. Even waiting for a hospitalist to show up for rounds is a big challenge. "Don't leave" is the general rule when someone you love is in the hospital. This advice is very difficult to follow, but crucial if you want an update on your loved one's condition or if you have a question to ask about the care plan.

Group FaceTime could be a game changer for families trying to get everyone—even the adult child living across the country—an update from the doctor about a person in the hospital. Hospitals could set FaceTime hours for doctors and other members of the care team to solve the problem of never being at the bedside when the doctor is.

Siri Shortcuts for improved medication adherence

During the WWDC 2018 keynote, an Apple manager showed off a Siri Shortcut that connected several tasks. The Shortcut estimated her evening commute time, sent a message to her roommate with the ETA, and turned on NPR in her car.

A Siri Shortcut could be a powerful tool to help people living with complex health conditions, as well as people taking multiple medications every day at different times each day. This tool could also help patients who have to take injections or follow multi-step instructions. For example, doctors don't have a lot of time to explain how to use an asthma inhaler during a visit. A Siri Shortcut could use a calendar reminder to trigger a "Don't forget your evening dose," pull up a video that shows how to use the inhaler, and then record the action in the Health app.

SEE: Apple Siri: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Pharmacies could create Siri Shortcuts to share with customers to remind them to finish the entire bottle of antibiotics. People taking expensive meds—such as the Hepatitis C drugs that cost about $1,000 per pill—could get these reminders as well.

These Siri Shortcuts could be useful before a drug even hits the market. Pharma companies spend between $19 and $52 million on phase 3 clinical trials (that's the stage when the new treatments are tested on humans). Giving an iPhone to participants could pay for itself in better trial results as well as improved compliance once (if) the drug makes it to the market.

Some clinical trials also sometimes require daily reporting from a participant such as getting on a scale or taking vital signs or reporting mood. Pre-programmed shortcuts could increase the chances of people remembering to do this too.

All this requires a person to have an iPhone or an Apple Watch, of course. The newer phones start at $699 and the watches at $329. Hepatitis C destroys your liver, so a course of meds that comes with an iPhone is still cheaper than a transplant and a lifetime of anti-rejection meds.

Hands-free voice activation for the Apple Watch

Kevin Lynch's job during the WWDC 2018 keynote was to explain how the new Apple Watch features will help users "stay active and connected." The VP of Technology at Apple shared a lot of updates about exercise—auto detection of workouts, tracking for more types of exercise like hiking, new features for runners. He also announced that Apple Watch users would no longer have to say "Hey, Siri," to activate the assistant. Developers changed the interaction to be triggered by the wearer lifting his wrist to wake up Siri.

This gesture-based "on button" is a perfect fit for healthcare providers. There are many occasions when a nurse has to keep her hands clean, but could use her voice or a gesture to ask a virtual assistant to start paying attention or take an action. Gesture-based activation could also help hospital patients interact with technology if they are on pain meds or if their mobility is limited.

Developers working on voice-controlled software are starting to think in terms of "place-onas." A play on "persona," this term identifies the best way for humans to interact with technology based on location and activity. For instance, a surgeon could use her voice but not her hands to control software in the operating room—that place-ona would be characterized as "eyes busy, hands busy, ears free, voice free."

Hospitals are full of "hands busy" place-onas. The idea of turning on a virtual assistant with a gesture has a lot of potential for making interactions with technology easier in healthcare settings.

Also see

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Image: Apple

About Veronica Combs

Veronica is an independent journalist and communications strategist. For more than 10 years, she has covered health and healthcare with a focus on innovation and patient engagement. She led AIR Louisville, a three-year digital health project focused ...

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