Apple adds walking stability, family and provider health sharing, and more at WWDC 2021

Once again the developer spotlighted a number of new health features for the iPhone and Apple Watch.
By Jonah Comstock
02:49 pm
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Adeeti Ullal, Apple’s senior manager for motion health technologies, speaks at WWDC.

Screenshot from WWDC's livestream.

In today's two-hour keynote at WWDC, Apple’s annual developer conference, the company once again announced a number of updates to health and wellness features of both the iPhone and Apple Watch.

In the newest iPhone operating system, Apple is adding real-time assessment of walking stability and fall risk, additional context for lab test results, new tools for tracking health trends for individuals as well as caregivers, and new integrations with major EHR vendors.

The Watch, meanwhile, is adding updated mindfulness and meditation features, new workout types and respiratory rate tracking in the sleep app.

Updates to the Health app

The biggest update announced to the health app is a new biomarker called Walking Steadiness, which uses the iPhone’s built-in motion sensors and data from the Apple Heart and Movement studies to create a biomarker that can tell a user if their gait begins to deteriorate.

“As you walk with your iPhone, the built-in motion sensors automatically measure how fast and how evenly you walk, the length of your steps, and the timing of each step, right down to how often you have both feet on the ground,” Adeeti Ullal, Apple’s senior manager for motion health technologies, said at the event. “Combined, these metrics provide powerful insight on changes in your balance, stability and coordination.”

In addition to giving users a walking steadiness rating and notifying them if it drops low, the Health app will include videos of how to improve walking steadiness.

While Apple Health has included a space for lab test results almost from the beginning, new updates mean that users will be able to better understand those results with more context. The app will include detailed descriptions of what different lab results mean, as well as what the expected ranges are.

A new feature in Health called Trends will make it easier for users to see and understand trends in their health data and notify them as trends emerge.

New options for health data sharing

New features announced today will make it easier to safely and securely share data, both with professional caregivers and with family caregivers.

To share data with doctors, Apple will integrate directly with a handful of EHRs. The initial list, which notably omits Epic, includes Cerner, Allscripts, athenahealth, CPSI, Meditech Expanse and Dr. Chrono.

The other feature, health sharing, enables opt-in sharing of health data with other iOS users, such as aging parents or young children. The shared user can see trends or get notifications so they can check in with loved ones whose vitals change in a concerning way.

“This is a powerful new way to stay connected to the wellbeing of those you love,” Apple Vice President of Health Sumbul Desai said at the event. “You’ll have peace of mind, and they’ll know they have a trusted partner in their health journey.”

Apple Watch features

Several updates to WatchOS are also related to health. The Breathe app has been expanded beyond just an animated breathing exercise to also include a feature called "Reflect" that poses a question to the user. The two together will now be known as the Mindfulness app.

The sleep app has added an additional metric: respiratory rate, or how many breaths the user takes per minute. The Watch will automatically notify the user about changes to their respiratory rate.

Finally, Apple Watch has added tai chi and Pilates to its list of recognized workout types.

 

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