The health app industry has been booming over the last few years. Software developers and healthcare professionals have been attempting to solve a number of problems to make sure that patients and their families (as well as health care providers) can fully benefit from the technologies that are available on the market. An ideal solution has not been found yet, but as we could have expected, Apple and Google both came up with their own solutions.
Why HealthKit and Google Fit?
Apple and Google are constantly working to solve problems both for end users as well as for app developers.
For developers, Google Fit and HealthKit provide a standardized format and storage mechanism for health data, thus facilitating the development of apps and devices that can share health data between each other.
The problem of data sharing (for example, with healthcare providers, coaches, or clinicians) can only be solved by app developers, because both HealthKit and Google Fit are designed to be accessed and manipulated only by an individual user. For example, if a doctor wants to access patients' health data which is stored in HealthKit, they will have to develop an app specifically to facilitate this. Healthcare startups that already have apps, especially those who track chronic health conditions can benefit from integrating with HealthKit, since this integration will allow them to expand interoperability with tracking devices.
If producers of healthcare tracking devices want to integrate with Google Fit or HealthKit, the only way they can do it is by adopting the Bluetooth Smart standards. Once in compliance with standards, a Bluetooth Smart device must also have an Android app which will save fitness data to Google Fit. But it doesn’t work the same way for HealthKit. The same Bluetooth Smart device doesn’t need any app to connect to the iOS platform, because the iOS platform has a special built-in accessory that supports devices that track heart rate, blood glucose, blood pressure, and body temperature. Any app can access HeathKit to read the data from the device with user permission.
For users, both platforms offer a unified view of all their health and fitness data. Users can switch between different apps without having to worry about transferring all their information.
Unlike cloud-based Google Fit, HealthKit is not connected to iCloud or any other cloud services, so it works only on iOS devices, and it doesn’t even have support for iPad yet. Fitness data stored on Google Fit, on the other hand, can be accessed from any platform as long as a user is signed in to their Google account.
HealthKit and Google Fit reflect differences in strategic thinking at Apple and Google.
Who partners with HealthKit and Google Fit?
Last year Google Fit teamed up with Adidas, Polar, and Withings to invite developers to create fitness apps that would integrate with the Google Fit platform. The winning apps that were announced in the spring of 2015 were promptly promoted on Google Play. All winning apps primarily focus on fitness tracking, sport results evaluation and healthy lifestyle patterns (for example, drinking enough water and moving enough during the day). Google Fit continues to add major fitness brands to its list of partners.
HealthKit also partners with fitness companies such as Nike and FitBit. But HealthKit targets professional healthcare networks as well. For example, HealthKit is partnered with Mayo clinic, who will use the platform to enable patients to share their health data with doctors via the Epic MyChart app.
HealthKit integration with mobile apps and wearables provided by RunKeeper, Withings, Strava, and iHealth and others is a valuable extention for the companies' products. They are motivated by the assumption that one central location where users can manage their health and fitness records will indeed be a good thing for their business.
Introducing HealthKit to separate devices and healthcare providers is a big step toward consolidation of highly fragmented electronic medical records.
HealthKit and Google Fit somewhat overlap in a general sense but there is still a significant difference between them in terms of design, the types of data each records, and their security features.
Google Fit provides a simple and user-friendly design, but on the downside it requires users to swipe the screen every time they want to access new bits of information. The information itself is provided in detail, allowing users to separately track every parameter (miles run, calories burnt, etc.).
Google Fit also offers the possibility to manually record workouts for users who prefer to put aside their phones while exercising. After an activity (walking, running, etc.) is over, the user can record it in the Google Fit app, indicating the amount of time they exercised for. Based on the duration entered, Google Fit will estimate the number of steps taken by the user and record this information in the system.
The data that Google Fit stores can be viewed on both the Google Fit app and website. On the app’s home page, users can scroll to the bottom and tap the "See Graph Details" option. The top left pull-down menu lets them switch between days, weeks, or months, and the top right pull-down menu lets them toggle between the active time and steps. Below the main chart there is also an option to add a secondary chart for weight and heart rate.
HealthKit is somewhat more complex than Apple’s other native apps, but it gives users an opportunity to compare all their data on a single screen, which is helpful in case they want to find out how different factors interact.
Via Dashboard, users can choose what data (from what period of time) they want the Health app to display (i.e. data can be for one day, week, month, or year). In Health Data, they can track their body measurements, fitness stats, and more. In Sources, users can see HealthKit compatible apps and devices, and control which of them have access to their health data. Using Medical ID users can add information, such as birthdate, height, weight, blood type, and emergency contacts.
Healthcare and fitness data
The types of data that the two platforms store and display differ and can be divided into two big groups: data that refers to fitness activity tracking and data that refers to medical records.
- Types of data recorded from fitness apps.
Both HealthKit and Google fit store and manage the following information:
- Body measurements/weight history
- Number of steps/distance travelled
- Calories burnt
- Favorite types of activity/sports
- Length of exercise
- Heartbeat rate
In addition, HealthKit allows users to track their sleep too.
2. Types of data recorded from healthcare (medical) apps.
Calculation of heartbeat rate and statistics is probably as close as Google Fit comes to recording health data. The catch with Google Fit is that it provides no way to pass medical data (such as blood pressure or blood glucose) between apps. Therefore, Google Fit is not suitable for medical applications.
As we mentioned earlier, the goal of Apple is to make HealthKit show up in a doctor’s office, so it is focused on a whole variety of data from medical apps including:
- Lab results statistics (including glucose blood level)
- Medications (prescriptions alerts and note)
- Nutrition data (types of food consumed, calories count, carbohydrate count)
- Sleep data
- Vitals (pulse and blood pressure, body temperature)
Data concerning health and personal information is sensitive data. HealthKit and Google Fit take all the necessary precautions to ensure this health data is not lost or stolen.
Privacy and security for medical and fitness tracking apps
It is very important to understand the differences between privacy and security. Privacy refers to an individual's’ right to control their information and decide who it will be shared with. Security refers to the technical means of safeguarding that data.
The level of security required for a particular app depends on its functions and on whether it contains sensitive personal information. Usually, fitness apps can get away with a somewhat basic level of security, whereas anything that is marketed as a medical app requires a much more serious level of protection.
Security of Fitness Tracking apps
When you look at the Terms of Service (ToS) of Google Fit for developers you can find the following Use Limitations: Google does not intend Google Fit to be a medical device. You may not use Google Fit in connection with any product or service that may qualify as a medical device pursuant to Section 201(h) of the Federal Food Drug & Cosmetic (FD&C) Act.
Google acknowledges that Google Fit should not be seen as a medical device and therefore does not require additional security measures that are essential for medical apps and wearables.
HealthKit also offers well-designed security features, starting with the fact that it only works on iPhones. One reason for that might be security. The iPhone (at least the later versions) have fingerprint sensor security. If health data passes between an iPhone and an iPad how can the device(s) be sure of the user’s identity? If it is just one device by default, especially the iPhone that has fingerprint access, identity can be determined by the device.
Security of Medical Apps
Medical apps in the USA are controlled and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration guidelines. Possible measures that are recommended in a recent FDA statement include using user authentication (for example user ID and password, smartcard or even biometrics); strengthening password protection by avoiding hard-coded passwords and limiting public access to passwords used for technical device access.
David Lee Scher, MD, in his article on medical apps security breaks the most common threats down to the following list:
- unencrypted personal health information
- unsecured wireless communications from monitors
- lack of functionality to prevent commingling of such hospital data as patient personal health information and the app user’s personal data
- the lack of technical support or enforcement of minimum password requirements
- the failure to block untested or unapproved apps
- the absence of remote wipe or delete/lockdown functions to protect data in the event that the device is lost
Apple considered this list, and this is why HealthKit is protected by bank-grade security and encryption, which means records, notes and other information are protected according to the same standards as bank data. All information is stored in securely protected data centres with multiple backups in place.
Patient profiles and clinical notes in HealthKit can only be accessed through a combination of levels for different practitioners and administrator roles. For patients and people everywhere, HealthKit conducts in-depth research to ensure practitioners using their software are appropriately accredited and credentialed. This research forms the basis of the extensive searchable practitioner directory that Apple is continually expanding so that users can find the right practitioner for them.
For people who sign up for HealthKit, their personal information can only be accessed with a single username and password. Only people who have a user’s permission, such as their doctors, can view their personal information, clinical tools and health records.
Read also: Health and fitness apps development
At this point it seems that there is not a clear winner between HealthKit and Google Fit. HealthKit focuses on providing very detailed information and stressing the “health” side of the matter, whereas Google Fit integration with fitness trackers and other wearables and devices makes it be focused more on fitness than on health. But it seems that both platforms are becoming a standard for healthcare and fitness apps.
You can check out the infographics below that summarizes the information about HealthKit and Google Fit.
The infographics created by Anton Kosolapov, UI/UX designer at Yalantis.
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<div style="clear:both"><br><a href="https://yalantis.com/blog/how-can-healthkit-and-googlefit-help-you-develop-healthcare-and-fitness-apps/"><image src="/media/content/ckeditor/2015/10/12/health_950.png" title="How Can HealthKit and Google Fit Help You Develop Healthcare and Fitness Apps?" alt="How Can HealthKit and Google Fit Help You Develop Healthcare and Fitness Apps?" border="0" /></a></div>Courtesy of:<a href="https://yalantis.com/">Yalantis</a></div>