Personalized iPhone healthcare for the rest of us? Doctella has an app for that

Doctella hopes to help health providers create iOS-based personalized healthcare plans to improve medical outcomes.

Apple, iOS, Doctella, HealthKit, Apple Watch, digital health, health, medical
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Apple’s health-related solutions open the door to a new era of connected and personalized digital health, but the cost of app development means individualized patient solutions were a pipe dream — until now.

I spoke with Doctella's co-founder and CEO, Amer Haider, to learn how he hopes to unlock this opportunity.

Digital health: making it personal

Apple continues to invest deeply in digital health.

“We’re extremely interested in this area,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Apple recently cited a Stanford University study earlier this year that found the Apple Watch heart sensor to be more accurate than seven other wearable devices.

That’s good to hear.

The challenge is that every patient is unique and has different needs in terms of both their condition and their personalized treatment plan.

You see, while an Apple Watch can pick up lots of valuable health-related data, the question remains one of what are you going to do with that information?

The sad truth is that crafting personalized apps for every patient is an expensive task that’s beyond the budget of most health providers.

“We have smart phones and a plethora of devices that track our steps, sleep, heart rate and other vitals, but there is no simple way for healthcare professionals to capture, process and guide patients in real time,” said Haider.

Haider’s Doctella solution hopes to bridge this gap, offering an online environment within which healthcare professionals can quickly create patient-specific apps that use Apple’s health-related frameworks, Health, HealthKit, CareKit, ResearchKit and sundry sensor-based data.

All data is anonymized and encrypted, and health providers can be provided with some information to remotely monitor patients and to make timely interventions when required.

Doctella says it is possible to create one of these apps in as little as 10 minutes.

Apps for the rest of us

The idea is that these apps will analyze and inform patients and doctors on their exercise, pre- and post-surgery needs, medical requirements, physical condition and more.

This kind of personalization in digital health has huge potential, though I imagine regulators will need to be convinced that sensor-derived information is consistently reliable, as noted by Christina Farr.

Under current regulations, app developers cannot easily claim their apps are good for your health; all they can say is that they might help.

That’s the right approach, as it’s essential the health apps people use actually work. Apple developed ResearchKit to research which solutions actually do work.

In the future, however, “the ability to track patients and their outcomes will revolutionize medicine,” said Haider.

“When patients are automatically tracked and doctors, nurses and health insurance companies deliver timely digital health interventions, we will see improved outcomes — with patients empowered with knowledge and checklists from their healthcare provider, we will see an improvement in quality and safety,” he said.

Medical outcomes

This kind of patient-centred care will become standard across health, Haider said.

There is also an opportunity to tie data analytics and other forms of machine intelligence to these systems. After all, when active health data is being gathered in large quantities, that information may itself unlock fresh insights.

“Picture this scenario: In the future, there are 10,000 orthopaedic surgeons on the platform,” said Haider.

“They all follow the well-accepted guidelines and indications for knee replacement surgery. However, each surgeon manages the post-surgical care in a slightly different way. By following patient outcomes and applying AI to our de-identified analytics, we might find that one management scheme is superior to the other.

“The platform could begin to learn and find which Care Programs have the best outcomes. In time, these could be fed back to all clinicians and be used to update and improve guidelines.”

I understand Doctella’s claims and why they make sense, but to fully realize them, it is also essential that patient and medical information systems become less proprietary and more available. (Though not at the expense of patient privacy.)

A lack of interoperability between existing systems introduces a layer of complexity that must be unravelled on a country-by-country basis if we are to realize the potential benefits of digital health. It is possible this is why Apple acquired personal health data startup Gliimpse.

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