Industry analysts speculate that Apple might be planning to enter the EHR and healthcare related markets by transforming mobile technologies into gateway devices connected to providers’ EHR systems and patient data

Imagine a mobile device that monitors vitals while connected in real-time to healthcare providers, electronic health records (EHR), and clinical laboratories. One that measures the physical condition and emotional state of the user by casting light onto skin, and then records and transmits it with a swipe of the touch screen. Would such an innovation change how patients expect to interact with their providers? And how physicians, anatomic pathologists, and medical laboratories receive data from their patients? Certainly.

This is why US patents recently granted to Apple have caught the attention of industry analysts. Some speculate that the tech giant is planning to enter the mobile healthcare monitoring device, EHR, and healthcare data storage markets, as reported at Becker’s Health IT and CIO Review and Patently Apple.

How this would affect medical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups remains to be seen. But where Apple goes, industries follow. Thus, it’s worth following the company’s activities in the healthcare market.

Bringing Clinical Data, Medical Laboratory Test Results, to iPhone

Mobile devices launched the era of consumer-grade fitness wearables. It’s not uncommon for a smart phone or watch to capture and store a range of health data generated by users. This can include everything from heart rate and sleeping patterns to dietary logs and fertility tracking. But, to date, much of that healthcare data is user generated and does not integrate in any meaningful way with the majority of EHR systems. Nor does it enable communications with primary care providers or diagnostic services—such as medical laboratories or pathology groups.

This may soon change.

According to a CNBC report, a unit at Apple is “in talks with developers, hospitals, and other industry groups about bringing clinical data—such as detailed lab results and allergy lists—to the iPhone, according to a half-dozen people familiar with the team.”

The report states that Apple:

·       “Wants the iPhone to become the central bank for health information;

·       “Is looking to host clinical information, such as labs and allergy lists, and not just wellness data; and,

·       “Is talking with hospitals, researching potential acquisitions, and attending health IT industry meetings.”

Christina Farr, the report’s author, predicts that Apple could be preparing to apply its music industry model to the healthcare industry by, “Replacing CDs and scattered MP3s with a centralized management system in iTunes and the iPod—in the similarly fragmented and complicated landscape for health data.”

Former National Coordinator of Health IT for the Department of Health and Human Services, Farzad Mostashari, MD, ScM, rather enthusiastically noted the significance of the move, stating, “If Apple is serious about this, it would be a big f—ing deal.”

At a special event in September, Apple COO Jeff Williams (above) announced Stanford Medicine’s Apple Heart Study, which uses “data from Apple Watch to identify irregular heart rhythms, including those from potentially serious heart conditions like atrial fibrillation,” and, according to Williams, “notify users.” This is just one of several healthcare-related study collaborations Apple is exploring. It is not known if Apple is looking to collaborate with medical laboratories. (Photo copyright: Apple.)

Apple’s History with Healthcare Related Technology

Taken as a single event, these speculations might not convince industry leaders. However, Apple’s long-term investments and acquisitions show a clear trend toward integrating healthcare data into the Apple ecosystem.

Healthcare IT News noted that from 2014 to 2017 Apple:

·       Unveiled three different APIs—HealthKit, ResearchKit, and CareKit—designed to help capture, analyze, communicate, and integrate healthcare data with the Apple iOS and watchOS ecosystems;

·       Hired several MDs, including: Stephen Friend, MD; Rajiv Kumar, MD; Mike Evans, MD; Ricky Bloomfield, MD; and Sumbul Ahmad Desai, MD; and,

·       Engaged with the Argonaut Project and Health Gorilla (a centralized hub of healthcare data and information) suggesting a shift from wearables and basic device-based biometrics toward in-depth reporting, interoperability, and access to third-party healthcare data repositories—such as those in a person’s EHR or medical laboratory portal.

The Future of EHRs or Another Failed Attempt at Innovation?

Apple isn’t the only company to attempt such a system. Other efforts include Microsoft’s Health Vault and Google’s now shuttered Google Health. Another CNBC article notes that Amazon is also researching healthcare related options. “The new team is currently looking at opportunities that involve pushing and pulling data from legacy electronic medical record systems,” stated Farr. “The group is also exploring health applications for existing Amazon hardware, including Echo and Dash Wand.”

However, where most services fail to gain traction is user engagement. After all, if a system isn’t widely used or fails to offer benefits over existing systems, patients and service providers are not likely to go through the process of switching systems. Speaking with CNBC, Micky Tripathi, President and CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative notes, “At any given time, only about 10% to 15% of patients care about this stuff. If any company can figure out engagement, it’s Apple.”

According to comScore, 85.8-million people over the age of 13 already own an iPhone in the US. The upcoming facial recognition features on Apple’s iPhone X might also provide the added security needed for those questioning the safety of their data. Should Apple succeed, communicating data between clinical laboratories, physicians, and patients might be both convenient and fast. More importantly, it might be the universal platform that finally provides health data access across the entire care continuum, while simultaneously improving access to providers and empowering healthcare consumers.

Of course, this is a few years from reality. But, we can speculate … would innovative medical laboratories have their patients’ lab test data hosted in the Cloud in such a way that patients and providers could access it securely, along with other protected clinical records?

Imagine how this would enable patients to have their complete medical record traveling with them at all times.

—Jon Stone

Related Information:

Could Apple Be Taking a Bite Out of EHRs?

Could Amazon or Apple Actually Make a Dent In the EHR Market?

Apple Extends Its Reach into Healthcare

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Apple Is Quietly Working on Turning Your iPhone Into the One-Stop Shop for All Your Medical Info

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Amazon Has a Secret Health Tech Team Called 1492 Working on Medical Records, Virtual Doc Visits

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