January’s press release confirmed the tech company is working to integrate critical medical data into its mobile devices, while further promoting interoperability and patient access
While interoperability has improved since the earliest electronic health record (EHR) systems, today’s active patients often need to sort through multiple healthcare portals—including those of clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups—to get a comprehensive view of their medical history. Not only can this be time consuming, but also inconvenient if the patient lacks access to a computer.
Thus, it’s no surprise that in a January 24 press release, mobile technology giant Apple announced plans to enter the development ring and create an improved EHR for its mobile device users by updating its existing “Health” mobile application (app). The iOS 11.3 update, among other things, is designed to enable Apple iPhone owners to receive critical medical data, such as medical laboratory test results, directly on their devices.
“Our goal is to help consumers live a better day. We’ve worked closely with the health community to create an experience everyone has wanted for years—to view medical records easily and securely right on your iPhone,” said Apple COO Jeff Williams in the press release.
The new features are already available to developers in the latest iOS 11.3 beta 3 release. However, release to the public is expected soon with the issuance of the iOS 11.3 final release. This means that patients will not need to download extra apps—or remember to use them—to take advantage of the feature.
New Way to Improve Patients’ Access to Health Data or Just Another Data Silo?
The Apple Health Records platform adheres to Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) protocols for transmission of data. Providers send information to Apple which then aggregates the information, transmits it to patients’ iPhones and notifies them of the updates.
All information stored on the device is encrypted in storage and protected from unauthorized access by the user’s password.
Through the new Health Records interface, users view this aggregated data as a timeline, conduct searches, and share information with other parties as they deem appropriate.
Current medical information listed in the press release includes:
- Clinical laboratory results;
- Procedures; and,
Currently, the platform integrates data from three major EHR developers:
- Cerner; and,
Apple is also working with 12 health institutions across the US in the first phase of the project, including:
In the Apple press release, Stephanie Reel, CIO at John Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, stated, “Streamlining information sharing between patients and their caregivers can go a long way towards making the patient experience a positive one. This is why we are excited about working with Apple to make accessing secure medical records from an iPhone as simple for a patient as checking email.”
Previous Attempts at Mobile Health Record Devices Got Mixed Results
This isn’t the first time a major technology company has attempted to enter the mobile health market. Google Health was shuttered in 2011 citing low adoption. Wearable fitness trackers, such as Fitbit (NYSE:FIT) enjoyed a bubble, but are now seeing mixed success in terms of long-term adoption and use, according to The Motley Fool. More to the point, they’ve never quite become the holy grail of monitoring and data collection that some experts predicted, Huffington Post reported.
However, Apple’s investments and interest in healthcare-related technologies has led to wide speculation that they would enter the health market this year. (See Dark Daily “Apple May Be Developing Mobile Device Technology to Monitor User’s Health and Transmit Data in Real Time.”)
Larry Dignan, Editor-in-Chief at ZDNet, builds a compelling case for why this could be the attempt that succeeds in providing a consolidated platform for clinical laboratories, physicians, and other care providers to push data directly to patients and—with the patient’s permission—to each other, regardless of the platforms healthcare facilities use to store and transmit data.
He notes that much of Apple’s newest features build on foundations laid by the healthcare industry to create scalable, functional EHR systems. By working with existing protocols, Apple’s Health Records platform is already positioned for compatibility with many healthcare providers.
Furthermore, Apple is already known for partnering at the enterprise level with major businesses and industries, while also holding the trust of millions of Americans who store their personal information on Apple devices.
Is Apple the Future of EHRs?
Despite this, until the platform—and adoption by the public—is proven a success, it will be yet another walled garden of medical information. Even then, Apple is only one segment of the global mobile market.
Unless Apple provides access to other platforms (such as Android), those patients—and the medical communities serving them—are left consolidating information on their own through a sprawl of various portals. This also means that medical laboratories, pathology groups, and other service providers must continue to invest time and funding into communicating data in ways compatible with a plethora of internal and external systems and software.
Still, the platform offers an intriguing glimpse at the future of medical records and heralds a shift toward empowering patients with easy, comprehensive access to their own data, which would be a boon to the medical laboratory industry.