Posted by Neil Bennett 04 June 2014
Why Apple's HealthKit isn't good for your health
I’m the kind of person that Apple’s HealthKit and Health app should be aimed at. I’d like to be healthier, but I like great food more. And tt turns out craft beer has just as many calories as the bog standard stuff.
Also, having getting on your bike as your primary form of exercise is great in the summer but more than a little demotivating in winter, when you (I) need that additional burn to deal with those warm and filling comfort foods that are an only natural reaction to the murky grey chill and horizontal rain of the British weather.
But Apple’s dream of the 'quantified self' – where all of the information about your health, nutrition and exercise are combined into a holistic whole that leads you on a path to physical self-improvement – will, in reality, likely lead you to an early grave. Or hypochondria. Or at least wrenching a muscle as you throw your iPhone out the window in frustration.
First off, Health and HealthKit and all of the apps that tie into the 'wellness ecosystem' requires a wealth of information to stand any chance of knowing if you’re getting fitter or descending in gluttonous pie consumption. If you can’t be bothered to go for a ride because it’s a bit gray and might rain, are you likely to have the motivation to note down every amount of every ingredient of every meal you consume? Or the time, for that matter, which is apparently another key reason our health as a nation is dropping – as the gym
Even if the app platform could automatically work out everything that you’ve consumed and exerted, and could let you know the fair to middling state of your body, would you know what to do with that information? Would you take being told that your heart rate has been higher as a sign of an impending heart attack and respond in the only natural way – to panic and run off to be a additional burden to an already stretched GP’s surgery or A&E department? Or take any anomaly as a sign that you’ve got cancer? Or Google a set of results given to you by the app and end up thinking you’ve got something deadly that's so rare it’s only been seen in a couple of cases and an episode of House? (My answers, in case you’re wondering, are No, Yes, Yes and Aaaaaaaaaaargh)
There’s a reason why we pay doctors and nurses to look at our health and assess needs. They know what they’re looking for. You - and, again, I mean me – couldn’t tell a heart murmur from a Burial bassline. A bare minimum of information is enough for us, thanks.
Your doctor is watching you
Photo: Moe M
In the US, Apple is saying that it could automatically hand over this information to you “primary health provider” – i.e. your doctor, paid for by private health insurance. This sounds eminently sensible, though unlikely to fit with the NHS’s massive archipelago of systems, where every GPs surgery and hospital has its own IT system that’s usually completely incompatible with what’s used in nearby surgeries and hospitals – and a recent attempt to bring it all together resulted in a colossal waste of money on the kind of scale that only a government-funded fuck-up can manage (£10billion in total).
If you’re one of the few who can afford private healthcare from the likes of Aviva or Bupa – and assuming they put proper systems in place to collect and analyse your data – then you’ll probably see a lot of benefits. Or at least their costs come down if you’re doing the prerequisite number of pull-ups and passing on the pizzas.
However, life insurance companies will also want that data in exchange for lower premiums – like the boxes car insurance companies want to put in your car to make sure you don’t speed or brake too hard, even if a rabbit runs out in front of your car (run the blighter over, it’s his fault for not looking where he was going and you’ll save 3p on your next insurance premium). And who trusts a life insurance company!
Of course, if Health and HealthKit take off, it’s possible that Apple will get enough data from everyone to create a virtual doctor – your own Christian Jensen who will make accurate diagnoses about what ails you and tell you how you could eat, sleep, exercise and probably even make love better. But it’ll be from a Californian company that used to be run by a big fan of fad diets and is quite interested in selling you stuff – or encouraging you to buy stuff from other people and taking a 30% cut – so the system will probably start with recommending a raw food diet (which it’s conveniently already ordered from your Waitrose app), before moving onto demanding that you read an Important book about stress relief techniques before it lets you see your email.
At which point you lob your phone out the window in frustration, intending to set off to the pub for a pint and a pie to calm yourself down – but instead pull your shoulder and end up having to go to the doctor and not able to ride your bike for a fortnight. And it’s all your fault Apple!