THE BLOG

Watch This Space: Apple, Healthcare and the Halo Effect

14/04/2015 15:24 BST | Updated 12/06/2015 10:59 BST

On April 24th the Apple Watch officially goes on sale. I believe it is a game-changer for the wearables market and also for the nation's health. Let me explain why.

Last year, the launch of Apple's HealthKit sparked national interest in the idea of 'personalised health' - citizens playing an active role in their own healthcare by monitoring and recording their own data through health and fitness devices. Enabling them to combine this data with their GP-held medical record in the form of a mobile personal health record (PHR) for the first time was another major milestone.

But while health apps and wearable devices have been available for some time - and are already being used by many of us to better manage our health and wellbeing - the arrival of the Apple Watch will inevitably push the concept of personalised health from the tech-savvy fringe to the mainstream population.

If predictions are accurate, it really has the potential to change our behaviour in terms of how we use and manage our own information.

This has important implications. 'Health' and 'technology' have been bedfellows for a long time, but a mass market device like this will bring a level of acceptance to the relationship that hasn't been possible before. And in my view, this is good news for the NHS.

You see, how we accept and use consumer technology often has a halo effect on industry. And nowhere is this more needed than in UK healthcare.

Every day, NHS providers use technology to give better care. Take Blackpool Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust where the GP IT system has been integrated with community care provision across Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre.

This means that community nurses are now able to use their mobile devices to see their appointments for the day, and then use them while they're with patients to access GP records or hospital information through the trust's clinical portal.

It means they can spend more time with patients and be sure they are basing consultations and treatments on the very latest information, thus providing better care. Similarly, GPs know exactly what care their patients are receiving as it happens.

Examples such as this are by no means isolated, BUT they are not 'the norm' either. Why? Well, infrastructure, policy and funding are the three main gatekeepers to innovation - dictating when, where and how technology is used.

But these gatekeepers do not exist in a vacuum. Like any other sector providing a service customer influence is significant for the NHS. And if patients, through new technologies, come to use and expect innovation in relation to their day-to-day health, they will expect it from those delivering their healthcare.

They should. Because there is so much potential out there for wider adoption - across the whole NHS - of technologies that really do make a difference, from integrated patient record systems that enable 'joined-up' care, or risk stratification algorithms that detect the likelihood of conditions before they develop, to tele-health, apps and wearables that can help both patients and their clinicians in managing sometimes life-threatening conditions.

It is timely that on the same day the Apple Watch goes on sale, leading thinkers, health providers, clinicians and policy-makers will be assembled at the Royal College of General Practitioners for WIRED Health 2015.

The event is described as "a showcase for the extraordinary innovators using technology to re-imagine the health sector. From diagnostics and neuroscience, to data-driven healthcare and new material sciences helping to re-build the human body". WIRED Health, they say "is a haven for disruptive thinking and innovation".

The speaker list is incredibly impressive, featuring technology innovators and medical professionals leading their respective fields. As a committed devotee of the healthcare/technology partnership, I find it heartening to see.

"Disruptive thinking and innovation" is the route to change. The Apple Watch alone will not transform healthcare. Of course not. But it is a "disruptive" product and its arrival will change attitudes and behaviour when it comes to health. The power of that should not be underestimated.

The technology exists to really help make our health system better in so many ways - in many cases it just needs a helping hand to tip the scales from innovation to widely-used solution. I welcome any product, service or thinking that helps achieve that.