Apple co-founder Wozniak: iPhone mHealth apps simplify health care

Keynote speaker and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak shares some controversial thoughts on iPhone mHealth apps and the future of telemedicine at the ATA 2012 annual meeting.

SAN JOSE, CA -- It was no surprise that Apple co-founder and American Telemedicine Association annual meeting keynote speaker Steve Wozniak felt that iPhone mHealth apps would play a role in the future of U.S. health care.

Waving his iPhone around and making reference to his younger days when his shyness drove him to take consolation in the machines he built by hand, he half-seriously predicted that artificial intelligence would make smartphones -- at least for some people -- closer acquaintances than any human, a disarmingly personal statement that beguiled the crowd.

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"Eventually it's going to get smarter and smarter," Wozniak said, "like [IBM's] Watson and [the iPhone's personal assistant] Siri combined…it's going to start to almost get conscious. It's going to know my insights better than you do; it's going to be my best friend. The iPhone is going to know me better as a person." And for dramatic effect, Wozniak grinned at the audience and clutched his iPhone to his chest, to resounding peals of laughter from the crowd assembled at the San Jose Civic Auditorium.

Wozniak's keynote -- which was more a two-way conversation between him and outgoing ATA President and former space-shuttle astronaut Bernard Harris, M.D. -- was heavy on his personal history with an emphasis on the early days of Apple and the relationship between him and Steve Jobs. He also tapped into the crowd's entrepreneurial spirit, bemoaning America's transition to what he called a "banking society."

That played well to the ATA's membership in attendance, many of them physicians, technologists or both -- far from the world of finance themselves -- struggling with either launching their own telemedicine products or getting a telehealth service implemented and reimbursed.

Eventually [the iPhone is] going to get smarter and smarter, like Watson and Siri combined…it's going to start to almost get conscious.

Steve Wozniak, co-founder, Apple Inc.

But when Harris focused the discussion on health care and how Wozniak felt telemedicine played into its future, the computer pioneer showed he'd done his homework. He praised telemedicine innovators for "doing good things for people who didn't have access to the quality medical care they need," a tip of the hat to health systems extending physician reach by video to remote areas.

He also raised a controversial notion -- at least with an audience of human doctors -- that in the future, artificial intelligence-fueled computer systems that run decision-support systems and "listen" to patients via voice-recognition might be able to, more economically, provide smarter patient care than physicians. "What if that happens?" Wozniak said. "Then, where are we? The doctor then just has to manage the equipment, he's more of a technician."

"Uh-oh," Harris replied, addressing the crowd: "Don't throw things up here!"

"I think that's a long way off before that happens," Wozniak added.

Wozniak went on to say that he also loves seeing mHealth apps that enable personal health monitoring, which keeps physicians updated as well as friends and family via social media sharing. Wozniak specifically mentioned ClickCare, a vendor exhibiting an iPhone app that enables secure image sharing between primary care physicians and specialists.  

"I love the little devices that hook up to my iPhone, I'm a gadget guy," Wozniak said. "I probably wouldn't get a blood pressure thing at home and take readings and write them down, but heck when I take a reading and it's automatically in my iPhone and I can show it off, I love it."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Don Fluckinger, Features Writer or contact @DonFluckinger on Twitter.

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