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Get to know iOS 8: HealthKit and Apple's new Health app

Ryan Faas | Oct. 7, 2014
Here's a quick guide to getting started and setting up your own health database.

Apple iOS 8 Health app

New to iOS 8 is Apple's HealthKit platform, which offers the ability to track and share a vast range of health, fitness, and medical data points across multiple apps and devices. It can be used as a wellness and fitness tool--aggregating data about diet, activity, exercise, and sleep from multiple sources--as well as a serious medical tool for managing and monitoring chronic conditions.

It's a dynamic platform, working hard behind the scenes to deliver a personalized experience to each iPhone user, using data pulled from your iPhone's M7 or M8 sensor and allowing you to view all of this health data inside one app. Here's a quick guide to getting started and setting up your own health database.

Behind the scenes, yet always working 
As a medical tool, HealthKit offers tremendous value for a few different reasons. It can aggregate data from a range of apps or connected medical devices, like a glucose meter or blood pressure cuff, as well as consumer-oriented fitness devices. It also offers the ability to automate the recording of medical metrics. If you're using connected devices, this helps to ensure the accuracy of the data because it goes straight from the device to the associated app on your iPhone and then into HealthKit. If your doctor's office uses an electronic records system that supports HealthKit, that data can then be automatically entered into your medical record.

For the most part, you don't interact with HealthKit directly. The platform is really little more than a data store on your iPhone, and apps can write information into and pull information out of it. Some apps do both, though others may only input data or retrieve it. 

Most of the actual processing of HealthKit data--comparing the calories you've eaten with the number you've burned throughout the course of the day, getting data from a fitness tracker or other device, or compiling information and sending it to your doctor--is done in the third party apps that send information to and retrieve it from HealthKit. 

Apple's Health app, which is pre-installed on any iPhone 4s or newer running iOS 8, is the exception to this rule. It provides you the ability to view all of your HealthKit data from every HealthKit-compatible app. It also allows you to manually enter data and includes a dashboard for visualizing the data.

Health also includes a Medical ID feature that allows you to record important medical information--conditions, medications, allergies, and emergency contacts (which can include your primary care doctor or specialists). You can choose to have your Medical ID available from your phone's lock screen in case of an emergency where you're unable to provide that information. You can access this by tapping the Emergency button when asked to enter a passcode, which also allows your iPhone to make 911 calls while locked. 

 

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