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June 8, 2021

The new health features coming to your iPhone and Apple Watch

Daily Briefing

    During the annual Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, Apple unveiled new health features that will arrive as part of system updates to the iPhone and Apple Watch, including easier sharing of health information and improved health trend analysis.

    Telehealth primer: Wearables

    Details on the new features

    Improved health data sharing

    As part of the iPhone's newest operating system, iOS 15, which will launch in the fall, iPhone users can use a new sharing tab in the phone's Health app to share their health data with whomever they choose.

    With the user's permission, the Health app can track certain types of health information, which users can then share with their loved ones, caregivers, or doctors.

    In particular, Apple says its app can connect to a patient's EHR made by certain companies, including Allscripts, Cerner, and DrChrono, allowing doctors to view health data from a patient's iPhone directly in the EHR.

    The Health app can also store immunization records and other test results, allowing users to download their data through an online browser or QR code.

    Improved trend analysis

    The Health app will also add trend analysis for 20 types of health data, including resting heart rate, cardiovascular fitness, sleep, and blood glucose levels, Apple said.

    Users will be able to track goals, such as their running distance or minutes spent doing mindfulness practices. Further, the Health app can use data from third-party devices to track other health-related trends, such as insulin delivery.

    Users can turn on notifications to allow the Health app to highlight changes in health "so a user can celebrate progress toward a goal, or discuss with a doctor or care team," Apple said.

    The trends feature will also provide background information on lab results so patients who may be unfamiliar with certain medical terms can better understand their results.

    "For example, when you receive a cholesterol result, you can now see that the LDL is the bad cholesterol, and that having too much can put you at risk of heart disease," Sumbul Desai, VP of Apple Health, said. "You can also now see whether your labs are within expected ranges. Together, these views will help you get more meaning from your lab results."

    Tracking walking steadiness

    iOS 15 will also capture mobility data to assess a user's fall risk. The iPhone will use its motion sensors and custom algorithms to determine a person's balance, stability, and coordination, and then classify their steadiness as OK, Low, or Very Low. The metric was developed using Apple's Heart and Movement study, which included more than 100,000 participants of all ages.

    Users can chose to receive notifications if their score is Low or Very Low, and can be prompted to use visual exercises to increase their strength and balance. The exercises are based on a National Council on Aging fitness program called Otago.

    Conversation boost

    Apple also announced that the pro version of its AirPods headphones will incorporate a feature for people with mild hearing impairment called "conversation boost."

    The new feature will help users tune out background noise to more clearly hear the person who is talking to them.

    Additional Apple Watch updates

    Apple also announced two other updates to the Apple Watch, including:

    • The ability to measure respiratory rate in breaths per minute during sleep with the Apple Watch; and
    • An improved Mindfulness app.

    "This past year has emphasized the importance of health, and we're enabling our users to take a more active role in their well-being," Jeff Williams, Apple's COO, said. "Many people around the world are caring for someone, and we want to provide a secure and private way for users to have a trusted partner on their health journey" (Apple release, 6/7; Brodwin, STAT News, 6/7; Muoio, Fierce Healthcare, 6/7; Rendall, CNET, 6/7; Seifert, The Verge, 6/7; Koetsier, Forbes, 6/7).

    Telehealth primer: Wearables

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