Your smartphone can track your stock portfolio, find the best risotto in town and remind you about Mom’s birthday. But what if your phone could tell you when you’re about to have a heart attack? Or lower your chance of diabetes? Silicon Valley is investing in the latest health apps, which are projected to become a multi-billion dollar business. Will people use these devices instead of going to doctors? And how will health apps change the way people take care of themselves or make health care decisions?

Aza Raskin, CEO and founder of Massive Health, maker of health-focused products including apps
Jeffrey Olgin, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Cardiology at UCSF; he and his research team just started a study using mobile technology to monitor, predict and treat heart disease
Gary Wolf, co-founder of The Quantified Self, a blog and online forum dedicated to discussion of self-tracking devices, and writer and contributing editor to Wired magazine

  • Frank

    Your common iPhone does not have sufficient built-in sensors to monitor vitals, analyze blood droplets, or detect chemical odors so as to identify a disease or even monitor health. It’s very far from being like a Tricorder from Star Trek. Therefore all health data have to be hand-entered into any health app from the primary sensing devices, like blood-pressure monitors or cholesterol-measuring devices, unless those devices have Bluetooth but that’s an expensive proposition.
    To paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan, It’s the Sensors, Stupid.
    As we saw during the Dotcom and Housing bubbles, we should expect more and fantastical claims about apps, and false claims that we are dependent on such technology: It is an app bubble.


  • Frank

    Doesn’t all this self-quantifying and tracking promote willful violations of privacy? They make it sound vaguely interesting, but who’s to say that Big Brother isn’t encouraging this, because they want to reduce humans to hyper-monitored cattle. It’s being promoted at the same time that warrantless spying is at its peak… I’m all for calorie counting, but only so long as the data remain completely private.

    • TK_PhD

      Agree! Not only warrantless spying, but more insidious is that we are willingly giving access to all our phones information with the ‘permissions’ many apps require. I have been concerned about these ‘permissions’ and all the data they are collectively mining on individuals for a while. Now they may have access not only to where we are, where we shop, who we call, but also all our biometric data, our heart-rate etc. The implications are astounding!!!

    • Good point Frank. Your medical information is protected by a law called HIPAA and is considered Protect Health Information (PHI). The penalty for breaches in this law are draconian and institutions like UCSF have rigorous processes to ensure the security of this information. A consumer app like Nike Fuel is not covered under this law.

  • TimDoyle

    I ran 2.63 miles this morning with an average HR of 136 and a peak of 173 with Nike Plus running app. It’s fun it motivates you it gives you feedback.

  • David Grasseschi

    I use “Zombies, Run” which uses GPS to keep me moving while out running.

  • David Grasseschi

    Frank, I would worry about insurance companies with this information.

    • Frank

      That’s a good point. If employers are checking Facebook accounts for photos of drunk people, why wouldn’t insurance companies as well?

      I guess most people who want to tell the public about running X miles are doing so to brag, not to confess they had a heart attack etc. But … what if the insurance companies were covertly funding some of these self-quantifying efforts, thereby gaining access to private data?

  • Brian

    There’s always going to be information asymmetry in medicine. Think about how long your physician has spent studying medicine. Simple raw app data can’t/shouldn’t change behavior without context — without peer-reviewed evidence. Don’t let excitement for this technology get ahead of the responsible use of it. People shouldn’t put themselves at risk based scant evidence.

  • Peter

    This sounded like an exciting topic – but this is an extremely boring, ho-hum discussion until someone calls in. Disappointing.

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