The future of medicine: Personal, ubiquitous and mobile

The perfect storm of technology trends is about to transform healthcare as mobile tech, genomics, connected devices and artificial intelligence combine.

Apple, AI, iOS, mobile, digital health, Apple Watch, HealthKit, ReserchKit
Credit: REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

We’ve discussed before how Apple’s devices can be good for your health, but we should see the potential of its mobile health solutions take a quantum leap in the next few years, as genetic information is used to deliver utterly personalized, precision medical care.

Genetics for the rest of us

The U.K.’s chief medical officer this week recommended routine DNA testing for cancer patients to help develop personalized treatment.

"This technology has the potential to change medicine forever, but we need all NHS staff, patients and the public to recognise and embrace its huge potential,” said Professor Dame Sally Davies. “The age of precision medicine is now.”

Think about the implications of this:

While such information isn’t necessarily going to help develop treatments for every patient and every illness, there are some problems that can be better addressed once a person’s genetic make-up is understood. 

The idea must be that by understanding a person’s individual genetic construction, it becomes easier to identify external factors that may impact that person.

While there are clear potential benefits, there are also concerns.

The World Health Organization warns that: “Knowledge of genetic risks can lead to potential social and psychological consequences for the individual.”

However, Dame Davies’ statement suggests such testing will become part of future healthcare—it will be up to each of us to ensure such data doesn’t become the thin end of a drive to genetic discrimination. There are dystopian ways to abuse such technologies.

Everything machines

How does this relate to Apple? Apple Watch can already help you to follow a healthy exercise routine. Its built-in heart rate monitor is already saving lives.  

Apple is working to extend the capabilities of its connected devices to monitor different types of health data, with Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly wearing an iPhone-connected diabetes blood sugar monitor.

From software for medical research to development of new sensor technologies, there can be little doubt that Apple wants to build a connected ecosystem of products and services that may provide tangible benefits to public health.

There have been claims Apple is also expanding its reach into electronic health record technologies, citing a range of hires and acquisitions that appear to support this idea.

Apple also made numerous significant enhancements to its CareKit and ResearchKit frameworks at WWDC 2017, including the addition of more tracking options for diabetes treatment and better integration with healthcare provider platforms, such as Medable’s Synapse.

The idea might be that by securely combining a patient health data with ambient sensor-based insight, a person will be empowered to manage and improve their health, and healthcare professionals will be able to access deep collections of related data to help improve treatment and diagnosis.

There are also clear implications for artificial intelligence in this.

Apple wants your source code

So, now we have a situation in which an augmented human is better equipped to maintain their own health while also being empowered to monitor any existing conditions. (However, we still need effective ways to ensure health-focused solutions are actually good for your health).

Now imagine how much more effective such personalized solutions may become if informed about your own unique genomic code.

This combination should enable remote diagnostic systems to match a person’s personalized status with current activity in order to determine potential future health challenges.

Apple has been exploring the potential of genetics in digital health since at least May 2015. Working with 23andMe, Apple in 2016 added a new ResearchKit module that allows study participants to easily contribute their genetic data to medical research. 

  • The PPD ACT app was the first app to use an iPhone to enable consent for DNA sample collection. The iOS ResearchKit project is an attempt to find out if there is a genetic predisposition for postnatal (or post-partum) depression.
  • The MyHeart Counts app uses genetic data to help figure out predisposition to heart conditions and measure how a participant’s activity and lifestyle relate to cardiovascular health.
  • The Asthma Health app uses genetic data from 23andMe customers to help researchers better understand ways to personalize asthma treatment.

“Collecting this type of information will help researchers determine genomic indicators for specific diseases and conditions,” said Eric Schadt, PhD, the Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor of Genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and founding director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology.

The momentum behind use of genomic data in medical care and research in conjunction with the statement from the U.K.’s chief medical officer suggests this will indeed become part of the future of healthcare.

Apple appears to be building itself a strong position to be part of that future.

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