Smartphones and the Future of Health Information Technology
Building a perfectly healthy human may seem impossible but some tech companies, including Google, Samsung and Apple, are trying to do just that.
All three companies are working on collecting health information that can be used by individuals and their doctors to proactively work towards making people healthier. Each company is doing so in different ways, but their contributions have the chance to make great inroads towards helping health care professionals collect more data on patients.
Google baseline study
A part of Google X, the research arm of the search engine giant, the Baseline Study project is Google's attempt to gather health information in order to define what the term "healthy" truly means. Headed by Andrew Conrad, a molecular biologist, Baseline Study will collect as much health data as possible to understand how healthy cells, organs and systems operate in order to create a fully fleshed idea of a healthy person. Using this information can help doctors, nurses and health care professionals diagnose diseases earlier. This data may also help in identifying biomarkers which have positive or deleterious effects on human health. For instance one biomarker may help cytotechnologists know which patients are more likely to develop cancer. Another biomarker may help someone break down food faster, speeding their metabolism. This biomarker could lead to a treatment for people who cannot break down food as fast and thus experience weight control issues.
Samsung Architecture Multimedia Interactions
In May of this year, the Samsung Architecture Multimedia Interactions (SAMI) platform was unveiled. SAMI is Samsung's attempt to bring different information from multiple data sources together to paint a complete picture of the user. This means that any apps people have working on their phones can communicate with their tablets and wearables as well. Medical professionals can also have access to some of this health information in order to better monitor their patients.
To this end, Samsung has developed the SimBand, a wearable device that will start out as a way to test the SAMI platform. SimBand is based on a modular design, so when it is rolled out it will be fully customizable for customers. It will also track more than current wearables do, including:
- Heart rate
- Blood flow
- Skin temperature
- Hydration level
Samsung has partnered with IMEC, a leader in nanoelectronic research, and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), in order to bring SAMI and health connectivity to the broader public.
Apple's foray into the health care space, HealthKit, was an oft-whispered rumor until the company formally announced it at their World Wide Developers Conference in June. Some in the health community figured it was just a fancy way for Apple to join the "quantified self" movement. Buried deep in HealthKit, however, are a few features that doctors are excited about.
An Apple Insider article quotes ER doctor Jae Won Joh, who is particularly interested in the ways that HealthKit can transform the way that electronic medical records (EMRs) are moved from one practice to another. Right now, many different EMRs don't interface well together -- if a patient switches to a new doctor or hospital, for example, their health records may not travel well. What happens when patients are brought into an ER while unconscious? How can doctors quickly assess what medications they are on in order to know which are safe to use during an operation?
Right now the process is long, arduous and still involves fax machines. Imagine if a doctor could ask a patient to log into a simple app or platform that contained all of this data, fully encrypted against theft or misuse, but easily accessible. How much time and overhead could be saved through this? The Mayo Clinic wants to help Apple find out as they are partnering with the company in order to make HealthKit useable for patients, doctors and hospitals.
Critics may have issues with companies like Google, Samsung and Apple collecting sensitive health information from people, and rightfully so, but each company claims to be working with health care professionals to ensure there is no breach of privacy. As stated earlier, Google employs molecular biologist Andrew Conrad as a member of their Google X team. On top of coming up with the next wave of health tech, Conrad is tasked with making sure Google stays on the up-and-up when it comes to gathering and protecting health information. He has been working with Dr. Sam Gambhir, the chair of the Radiology department at Stanford University. Gambhir has been quoted in articles saying that Google will not have free rein to use the data in unethical ways.
Samsung has partnered with both IMEC and UCSF while Apple is working the Mayo Clinic. With HIPPA laws in place to govern how health information is used and transferred these partnerships are about more than just getting the tech built correctly and gathering the most important data. It could also be about ensuring that all of the information gathered is used properly and that no one can hack it and steal sensitive health data.
The future of health tech could be in these devices, but Apple, Google and Samsung will have to prove to the health care community, and the public at large, that privacy is just as important as gathering health information.
"Google Is Going To Collect Information To Try And Figure Out The Perfectly Healthy Human," Karyne Levy, Business Insider, July 24, 2014,
"Samsung Announces New Healthcare Platform That Will Track Your Body 24-7," Karyne Levy, Business Insider, May 28, 2014
"Google Wants to Index and Optimize Your Body," Kia Makarechi, Vanity Fair, July 25, 2014,
Apple Partners With Mayo Clinic On 'HealthKit,' A New Hub To Monitor Your Health, Karyne Levy, Business Insider, June 2, 2014,
"Apple's WWDC unveiling of HealthKit in iOS8 grabs the attention of doctors," Daniel Eran Dilger, Apple Insider, June 10, 2014,