News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel

News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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electronic health recordNew products are expected to radically change the wearable fitness device game by allowing physicians and patients and even pathologists to see the same data

If Apple Inc. can succeed with its latest wearable health device, experts predict that physicians may soon begin using it to monitor the health of their patients. This may be auspicious for pathologists and clinical laboratory scientists if physicians ask them to monitor that patient data and provide consultative support.

It was in September when Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) unveiled its new smartwatch. When combined with Apple’s HealthKit software platform, the Apple watch might well the most powerful wearable health-tracking device to hit the market yet.

Power of Apple Watch Is Flexibility of Its Software Platform 

The Apple HealthKit platform is a tool for developers. It supports health and fitness service apps that share data with Apple’s new Health app. The Apple Health app, which is bundled with Apple’s iOS8 iPhone system, centralizes data generated by various health and fitness apps for display on an easy-to-read dashboard, according to Apple developer information.

Heart rate, calories burned, blood sugar, cholesterol, and so forth are collected in one place, where it’s available with a tap to provide a clear and current overview of the user’s health status. Additionally, the Health app enables users to create an emergency card of important health information, such as the user’s blood type or allergies.

Pictured above is the Apple HealthKit dashboard display.

Pictured above is the Apple HealthKit dashboard display. The display on the left shows how many steps the user walked, along with the user’s heart rate and calories burned. The display on the right is the dashboard menu. This software platform, which interfaces with electronic medical records systems and other apps that provide health services, is the power behind the new Apple Watch, which will be available in early 2015. (Photo copyright Apple Inc.)

Apple is hoping its smartwatch, when teamed with its HealthKit platform, will trigger a health revolution. The concept behind this idea is that the combination of apps for health and fitness will create a more powerful way for individuals to manage their health and wellness.

Ochsner Hopes to Reduce Readmissions by Linking EHR to Apple Platform

One major aspect of HealthKit is its ability to interface with electronic health record (EHR) systems. In October, the New Orleans-based Ochsner Healthcare System became the first hospital system to link its Epic EHR to Apple’s HealthKit platform.

“In the past, we relied on patients to log information, bring it to us, and then we would input the data and decide a course of action,” explained Robert Bober, M.D., Director of Cardiac Molecular Imaging at Ochsner Medical Center. He was quoted in an Ochsner press release.

“Now we can share information seamlessly between patient and physician to allow real-time, accurate analysis of a patient’s health status,” declared Bober. For patients with chronic diseases, like heart failure or diabetes in particular, this ability has big implications, he added, noting that such information is vital in reducing hospital readmissions.

Robert Bober, M.D.

One of the first major health systems to create an interface between the Apple HealthKit and its Epic electronic health record (EHR) system is Ocshner Medical Center in New Orleans. Pictured above is Robert Bober, M.D., Director of Cardiac Molecular Imaging at Ochsner. He believes that bringing the patient into the information loop because of this interface has “big implications” for patients with chronic disease like diabetes. (Photo copyright Ocshner Health System.)

Ochsner isn’t the only healthcare system planning to take advantage of HealthKit’s EHR capability. According to a Reuters report. Apple is working with Mount Sinai, the Cleveland Clinic, and Johns Hopkins to connect their EHRs with HealthKit, as well as various EHR vendors.

Major Providers Developing Health Tracking Apps for Apple Watch

In anticipation of such uses of the Apple Watch, major healthcare providers, including Mayo Clinic, are collaborating with Apple to enable patients to collect and share health information with their physicians wirelessly via the Apple Watch.

When officially launched in early 2015, the Apple Watch will be able to track medical and fitness data, such as pulse rate, noted a report published by Modern Healthcare, but not health data, like blood pressure, temperature, or glucose level. However, when the Apple Watch is paired with Apple’s HealthKit platform, it can aggregate health data from other wearable health devices that do monitor such health data and then allows the wearer to share collected data wirelessly with their physicians.

The Mayo Clinic is revising its patient app to work with the Apple Watch. The Mayo app allows patients to access their test results and make appointments.

Beginning early next year, this app will allow interaction with consumers for such health conditions as obesity, diabetes, cardiac disease and asthma, explained John Wald, M.D., Mayo Clinic Medical Director for Marketing in the Modern Healthcare story. He said, for example, that with the Mayo app on the Apple smartwatch, obese patients could get help with diet and exercise remotely.

John Halamka, M.D., Chief Information Officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, suggested that the combination of Apple’s HealthKit and Apple Watch will allow providers to facilitate wellness. This is increasingly important under population-health-management models.

“I think it’s going to radically change our ability to coordinate care,” he told Modern Healthcare. Halamka noted that a wearable device combined with a platform, such as HealthKit, could also enable people to remotely monitor the functional status of a family member with a condition, such as multiple sclerosis.

Apple Watch

Healthcare providers are excited about the coming launch of the new Apple Watch (pictured above), because its software platform interfaces with electronic health record systems and health apps created by outside developers. This flexibility will allow providers to develop their own apps to wirelessly monitor the health status of patients with chronic conditions, like heart failure and diabetes. (Photo copyright Apple Inc.)

Beth Israel Deaconess also plans to build an app to take advantage of HealthKit and remote monitoring tools, like the Apple smartwatch. It wants to target readmissions of patients with congestive heart failure. Halamka envisions creating an app that would monitor patient health status by tracking weight, daily activity levels, vitals such as pulse—then notify care managers of any clinically significant change.

Halamka observed that the HealthKit holds promise as a new foundation for health app developers. Since this platform aggregates data from various wearable devices and renders it into a common format, “developers can focus on cool functions for apps without having to worry about the interfaces or even the notion of different data standards for dealing with these” devices, noted Halamka in the Modern Healthcare report. As a result, he said, systems will become more aggressive in creating their own apps.

Pathologists Could Play Role in Developing Apps to Monitor Patient Health

While launch of the Apple Watch isn’t likely to sway unmotivated Americans to take up a healthier lifestyle, it is a sophisticated addition to the growing cache of wearable fitness devices available on the market. HealthKit does, however, significantly increase the device’s potential as a healthcare-monitoring tool for patients with chronic conditions, like heart failure.

The capability of the HealthKit platform to interface with EHRs and health apps created by outside developers has created yet another opportunity for pathologists to act as consultants—this time to IT professionals developing apps that could help clinicians monitor patients remotely. For example, an app that allows clinicians to track health the status of patients recently released from the hospital could allow healthcare professionals to intervene at the first sign of relapse and thus prevent readmission of that patient.

—by Patricia Kirk 

Related Information:

Mayo collaborates with Apple on smartwatch to connect with patients

Ochsner first to link Epic to Apple’s HealthKit

Ochsner Health System First Epic Client to Fully Integrate with Apple HealthKit

The Revolution Hidden In The Apple Health Kit

Companies Developing Non-invasive and Wearable Glucose Monitoring Devices That Can Report Test Data in Real Time to Physicians and Clinical Laboratories