Nahum Kovalski

Is ‘Killer App’ a bad name for medical software?

Apple's new health-oriented watch may have a lot of features, but do people really need it?
The Apple Watch introduced on stage at the Flint Center in Cupertino, California, on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 (screen capture: YouTube video)
The Apple Watch introduced on stage at the Flint Center in Cupertino, California, on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 (screen capture: YouTube video)

Of late, a number of companies have begun to sell their version of a smart watch. Apple is already well represented in the market with its unique take on this device. Apple is also pushing its health software very aggressively and is trying to integrate all of its devices into a “health ecosystem”, for the benefit of the patients [and Apple’s bottom line].

I was recently reviewing a number of medical consulting services that are provided online, as well as electronic medical record tools. One very popular type of service is real-time video chatting with a physician. Strictly speaking, this is effectively having a Skype video conversation with a remote physician, and not much more. Still, this service seems to be very popular. And I wasn’t sure why, until today.

First, let me ask: why would someone wear a smart watch? One of the major features of smart watches that is being pushed very hard by all companies is the ability to sense vital signs like pulse, in order to give the user feedback on their state of health. Admittedly, for an elderly person  who is known to have abnormal rhythms of the heart, having such a watch that reports very fast pulse rates to a remote doctor, would be of great value. In practice, at least until now, most of such watches are sold to fitness enthusiasts who wish to know what their pulse is while they are jogging and afterwards.

What would make a smart watch a very desirable accoutrement to the general population? What I am effectively asking is, what would be the “killer application” that would make everyone want to wear a smart watch. In my case, I’m specifically talking about a medical application. So to summarize, is there a medical application  that could be hosted on a smart watch that would make millions of people buy one?

I now come back to the “video chat with a doctor” service that multiple companies are offering. Imagine having a button on the face of your smart watch that would allow you to instantly activate a video chat with your physician, or any consulting physician. Imagine that you are walking with your young child who suddenly develops a rash, and you are effectively in the middle of nowhere. Now, you could click the face of your watch and within seconds be connected to a remote physician who could see you, see your child, see the rash and have a full conversation about how to manage the situation. One click on your watch and you’re online with the doctor. That is pretty cool.

The reason this would be popular and would drive the use of smart watches for this feature, is that it would reduce the process of getting a medical opinion down to the equivalent of a home appliance. When you want a piece of toast, you put bread in the toaster and press a button. When you want to talk to a doctor, you could now just press a button. Same process, intuitive to everyone including the very young and very old. This would sell. And from my perspective, this would give people perhaps their first true sense of medical value from all of the computerization going on around them.

Adding features and endless options for customization would only confuse the interface, and would most likely rarely, if ever, be used. Everyone knows  the story of the person who bought a video machine [when there still were video machines], only to find themselves faced with a digital clock that constantly flashed 12:00. Video machines were replaced by DVDs which  were to some extent simpler. Nevertheless, nothing is as simple as a single click. That is why services like Netflix, which displays all of the options for viewing shows and movies (any of which can be selected with a single click) succeeds. Simplicity works.

Newer watches have the ability to load a SIM so that they can work independently of a cell phone. I strongly suspect that this will become a standard feature in all smart watches so that you truly will not need to even look at your phone, in order to take advantage of a whole variety of services. By the way, you could have a single click interface for sending a non-immediate message to your physician. You could have a single click interface for recording your state of well-being at various points during the day. As long as it is a single click, people will feel comfortable with it and will use it.

I greatly look forward to the universal implementation of such single click interfaces. And I am sure many people will benefit from them.

Thanks for listening


About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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