US hospitals are eager to trial health data collection technology as a new legislation requires them to keep people healthy insted of cashing fees for costly procedures

Hospitals test Apple's health tech to improve care

Major US hospitals have launched trials of Apple’s healthcare technology designed to allow remote, low cost monitoring of patients.

According to Reuters, 14 out of 23 hospitals questioned confirmed they have started or are about to start a pilot programme with Apple’s HealthKit service that provides a repository of patient-generated health information like blood pressure, weight or heart rate.

Apple is the first of the major technology players to have introduced such a service, with rivals Google and Samsung Electronics currently reaching out to hospitals and other medical facilities with similar products.

In the trials, Reuters reported, the technology is being used to monitor diabetes or hypertension sufferers, alerting doctors if data indicate possible problems. The physicians can thus intervene before the problem becomes acute, allowing hospitals to prevent repeat admissions.

Apple's move into healthcare follows the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, which aims to provide incentives for doctors to keep patients healthy instead of cashing hefty fees for costly procedures. The aim is to move away from the "fee for service" model, which has tended to reward doctors for procedures rather than for outcomes.

Apple's HealthKit collects information from various sensors and devices such as glucose measurement tools, food and exercise-tracking apps and Wi-fi connected scales. The firm said more than 600 developers are integrating HealthKit into their health and fitness apps. The anticipated Apple Watch, to be released in April, is expected to provide an additional boost to the service, allowing to collect even more data. 

“If we had more data, like daily weights, we could give the patient a call before they need to be hospitalised," said Richard Milani , chief clinical transformation officer at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, which is using the technology to monitor patients struggling to get their blood pressure under control.

The technology, however, presents multiple challenges forcing the medical personnel into analysing huge amounts of information of varying quality and relevance.

"This is a whole new data source that we don't understand the integrity of yet," said William Hanson, chief medical information officer at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles is developing visual dashboards to present patient-generated data to doctors in an easy-to-digest manner.

Experts say that there will eventually be a need for common standards to ensure that data can be gathered from both Apple's system and its competitors.

Some of the hospitals Reuters contacted confirmed they were interested in also trialling rival services, especially the Google Fit service as Google controls the majority of the smartphone operating system market with its Android software.

Samsung said it is working with Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital to develop mobile health technology. The firm also has a relationship with the University of California's San Francisco Medical Center.

IDC Health Insights estimates that up to 70 per cent of healthcare organisations worldwide will invest into smart technology including apps, wearables, remote monitoring and virtual care by 2018.

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