Apple has been at the forefront of technological innovation for years. Now, it’s crossing over into the medical world with a software update that will allow U.S. users to register to be organ donors. With the newest version of the iPhone health app, which will be released this fall, users can sign up for the National Donate Life Registry. (The software is scheduled for limited release this month). When a user registers as an organ donor, he or she can choose to display that fact in the optional “emergency information” display on their iPhone.
The measure is a response to a major shortfall in the United States, where over 120,000 people are currently waiting for lifesaving transplants. The issue is also a personal one—Apple co-founder Steve Jobs experienced a lengthy wait for a liver transplant in 2009. In an interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “Watching and seeing him every day, waiting and not knowing — it stuck with me and left an impression that I’ll never forget.”
The move has been enthusiastically praised by the national registry, as a way to offer Americans both information about organ donation and a fast, easy way to register – particularly for young users, who have not been registering as the same pace and volume as in the past. It also marks a transition for iPhone’s two-year-old Health app, which was initially a tool for iPhone users to record and manage personal health data. Of course, intersections between technology and medicine are nothing new, and Apple is not the only innovator here. (Facebook boasts a feature allowing its users to share their organ donor status and share links to organ registries.) Given the shortage of donors in the U.S. however, and the potential benefits given the tech company’s massive user base, it’s about time a heavyweight like Apple got involved.