What You Can Do With Your iPhone’s Health App

By Chris Hoffman on January 17th, 2015

Apple’s Health app arrived in iOS 8, and it’s now on every up-to-date iPhone. This app appears simple at first glance, but it hides a lot of data and advanced functionality.

The Health app is in actually the user-visible face of HealthKit, Apple’s attempt at putting all your health data in one place.

The Dashboard (and Step Tracking)

Open up the Health app and you’ll see the Dashboard. If you have an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, the phone’s built-in, low-power step tracking sensor will automatically populate this data with information about your physical activity. The sensor tracks the steps you take, the distance you walk or run, and the flights of stairs you climb. You can then see how active you were over the last day, week, month, or year.

If you have an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, you can use the Health app as a quick way to see how much you’re walking and running — no separate pedometer or step-tracking device necessary. Without any additional apps or gadgets, this is all most people will see on their iPhone’s Health app — assuming they have a modern iPhone with these sensors.

Although the Dashboard automatically includes this step data if you have an iPhone 6, you can actually display any type of data on the Dashboard you like. We’ll cover that later.

Medical ID

The Medical ID tab allows you to create a “Medical ID.” This is information that can be displayed on your lock screen without unlocking your phone. The idea is that you can add information about you that may be useful in an emergency — medical conditions, allergies, blood type, organ donor status, emergency contacts, and more. These important details can then be accessed from your phone’s lock screen if people need to know it in an emergency.

This is sort of a digital version of the medical ID wristband, but it does depend on someone checking your iPhone in an emergency. It’s also a bit tough to find, as someone has to tap the Emergency button on the lock screen to open the emergency dialer and then tap Medical ID. If more people use Medical ID, perhaps Medical ID will be commonly checked in the future. At this point, I would stick with a dedicated medical ID wristband if you’re really worried about communicating essential details in an emergency.

Health Data

The Health Data tab is a massive list of different types of health data. This is actually a list of all the different types of data Apple’s “HealthKit” service can track. Apple’s HealthKit service will allow third-party health-tracking gadgets and apps to share their data with Apple’s Health app and access the data you have stored there, if you give them permission. The Health app is supposed to be a single vault where all your Health data is stored.

If you have apps or devices that integrate with HealthKit, they can automatically add data to the different types of Health Data, just as your iPhone is constantly updating the step-tracking data with data from its own sensors. Apple’s own Apple Watch will include fitness-tracking features that integrate with HealthKit, for example.

But you can actually add a lot of data by hand, if you want. For example, let’s say you weigh yourself daily. You can go into Health Data > Body Measurements > Weight and tap Add Data Point. Every day when you weigh yourself, you can add the latest measurement here and track a history of your weight. You can even toggle the “Show on Dashboard” option to On so you can see your weight on the Dashboard screen.

This isn’t the most convenient option, of course. In the long run, Apple would like for you to get some sort of Bluetooth-enabled scale that will automatically enter your weight into HealthKit when you weigh yourself. But, if you’d like to track something manually — whether it’s weight, blood pressure, time spent sleeping, or caffeine intake — you can add it manually. You are limited to types of data Apple includes, however. There are some noticeable omissions right now.

For each type of data, you can also tap “Share Data” to see which apps are automatically providing this data to the Health app, and which apps have been given permission to view the data.

Sources

The Sources tab looks a bit lonely by default. Apps you install from the App Store may request access to update your health data, and they’ll appear here after requesting permission to do so. This tab will only be useful if you’ve already given access to such apps, so you can see which apps have access.

For example, let’s say you have an activity-tracking band that tracks the time you spend asleep or a bathroom scale that can report your weight to your phone via Bluetooth. The accompanying apps on your phone can request permission to integrate with HealthKit. They can then put their data into the Health app so you can access everything in one place. This data can then be shared with other apps, which could use it to provide insights after they look at months or years of different data points.

It isn’t all about physical sensors, of course. An app that you manually enter data into could also integrate with HealthKit, automatically copying the data you entered into HealthKit so it’s all available in one central location.


This app is actually not very Apple-like in many ways. The Dashboard is nice, and Medical ID is okay, but you can easily find yourself in the weeds if you tap Health Data and start looking around.

While it’s possible to obsessively enter all the data points you have manually, the real intention is for you to use devices and apps that automatically enter the data for you. To find these apps, you’ll have to look elsewhere — the Health app on iOS doesn’t yet help you find HealthKit-enabled apps and devices. That seems like an obvious helpful feature Apple should add in the future.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/17/15
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