AirStrip and Apple Watch: Reimagining Healthcare Communication

If Apple’s 2015 Special Event on September 9 was any indication, our world has entered a new era of healthcare technology. Apple unveiled their latest developments to the AirStrip app for Apple Watch, designed to redefine mobile healthcare communication.

Apple isn’t the only company enhancing relationships between medicine and technology (just take a look at IBM and Google), but these latest capabilities have the potential to make a significant impact on the communication barriers that often exist between care teams as well as between providers and their patients. And based on the scope of Apple’s past success and appeal to business and the individual consumer, it’s likely that the company’s transformation of our digital world — and now healthcare — will only continue.

AirStrip and Apple Watch offer a unique combination of features to physicians. Once the physician is wearing the watch, he or she can be securely authenticated until taking it off. Doctors can collaborate with team members, view daily schedules, scroll through upcoming patients and information relevant to their appointments and view patients’ health status updates in real-time — all from their wrists. They can receive a message from a nurse containing an alert, waveform snippets, vital signs and lab results for a patient and then take action directly from the data (such as ordering a test) by sending a secure message to a member of the patient’s care team.

Apple has already partnered with the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins and other leading systems to implement its healthcare technology as well as with industry vendors like Epic, facilitating HIPAA compliant, direct data transfer to patients’ existing medical records.  

As a primary care physician, I always return to the irreplaceable value of the relationship between an individual and his or her familiar physician — an ongoing partnership of holistic, personalized care. There’s simply no rival for the quality provided by a physician who has knowledge of a patient that extends beyond EMR data points. And an app like AirStrip has the potential to help the familiar physician enable collaborative communication, convenient access and patient engagement like never before.

One concern is the question of how much data is too much data. Few physicians have the time available to review updates of each patient’s information and scroll through his or her vital sign waveform history on an ongoing basis. But in special cases, and particularly with chronically ill patients, the ability to view status updates in real time — without the patient even being in the exam room — could drastically improve chronic care management.

Technology can’t replace the care of a familiar physician, but it can help doctors be exactly that — familiar. Imagine a physician having the ability to remotely check a chronically ill patient’s heart rate and blood pressure in real time. Imagine a pregnant mother pairing her Apple Watch with a Sense4Baby fetal heart monitor to record a non-stress test that she can send in a message to her doctor from the comfort of her home. Tools that engage patients in their own health and improve the data transfer between all members of their healthcare team represent progress in the right direction.

Apple has both its champions and critics, and as with any technological advance, cautious adoption and gradual implementation are wise. But as the healthcare industry looks ahead at goals like interoperability and team-based care, we’re going to need new and better tools to help us deliver more efficiently and effectively. We simply can’t keep doing things the way we always have and expect improved results.

The complex, highly regulatory and often bureaucratic nature of healthcare isn’t the easiest context for new systems to take root, but it’s where we desperately need innovation. What seems clear from the movement of global giants like Apple and IBM is that personal and personalized healthcare technology is here and healthcare delivery must adapt to the changing environment. Change is often met with resistance (and physicians are notoriously averse to it). But it also offers opportunities for growth and creative solutions, from which the medical field and providers alike can reap great benefits.