Forget an Apple a day keeping the doctor away. Apple is bringing the doctor and patient closer together by putting your health records on your phone, finally unlocking the massive potential of the iOS Health app to serve as an electronic health record platform.
The company today announced a beta version of iOS 11.3 that adds U.S. digital medical records and functionality to the Health app. The goal is to give people access to their medical data, to download their health records, store them safely and show them to a doctor, caregiver or friend.
“We view the future as consumers owning their own health data,” Apple COO Jeff Williams told CNBC. “Apple doesn’t see the data unless the consumer chooses to share it. It’s difficult to think about something more significant than health records. With your banking records, you can see every transaction and dollars spent, and yet my health is way more significant and I couldn’t put my finger on any of my lab information.”
Apple said the healthcare goal is not to sell more iOS devices but to augment the user experience, even as it promotes the Apple Watch as a health and fitness tool. “We’re hoping to enable richer conversations between doctor and patient,” said Sumbul Desai, Apple’s digital health lead.
The move towards electronic health records has been going on for some time, of course, including the Blue Button initiative that began at the U.S. Veterans’ Affairs department under former U.S. CTO Peter Levin. The movement towards paperless medical records and more digitally-connected patient/doctor relations is not only a U.S. initiative, but interoperability and security have been a hurdle to date.
Apple’s goal is to make it simple, elegant and meaningful. To set it up, simply open the Health app on an iOS device—iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad—to add a health provider, then tap to connect to Apple’s software system and access streaming data. An alert notifies the user when new information is available.
Apple has partnered with major hospitals across the U.S. for the beta test, including:
· Johns Hopkins Medicine – Baltimore, Maryland
· Cedars-Sinai – Los Angeles, California
· Penn Medicine – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
· Geisinger Health System – Danville, Pennsylvania
· UC San Diego Health – San Diego, California
· UNC Health Care – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
· Rush University Medical Center – Chicago, Illinois
· Dignity Health – Arizona, California and Nevada
· Ochsner Health System – Jefferson Parish, Louisiana
· MedStar Health – Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia
· OhioHealth – Columbus, Ohio
· Cerner Health Clinic – Kansas City, Missouri
The natural concern on consumers’ minds will be privacy and security. The data on the health app is encrypted and protected through a user’s iPhone passcode and covers allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals.
To add to their peace of mind, Apple has been working with the electronic medical record specialists at Epic Systems, Cerner and AthenaHealth to make sure the record-keeping meets FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) standards, a protocol for exchanging electronic health records.
Kevin Lynch, Apple’s VP technology, said the e-record vendors “have been an enabling, and not a blocking factor, and we appreciate that.”
As CNBC notes, “Regulators and patient advocates have for years pushed for data-sharing standards within the medical sector to make it easier for records to flow between hospitals and doctors’ offices. The lack of interoperability has made it a challenge for consumers to access high-quality care and has led to unnecessary medical errors.”
Apple has long intended its HealthKit platform for developers to create more utility for the user’s health, as noted in its messaging to developers around ResearchKit:
Apple’s former CEO, John Sculley, applauded the move in an interview on CNBC today:
Take a closer look at the user interface below: