EHRs are coming to iPhones. Here's what you need to know.

Read Advisory Board's take on this story.

Apple on Wednesday launched a test version of a new iPhone feature that permits users to automatically download, store, and share parts of their medical records.

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Jeff Williams, Apple's COO, said of the feature, "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."

Details on the new feature

According to CNBC, the new feature—which will be made available to consumers on Thursday—is part of an iOS 11.3 beta via the Health application, where users can select the health record section and add a health provider. Users can then connect with Apple's software system, which sends data from participating health providers to the user as it becomes available.

The medical information available via the new feature includes data on users' allergies, medical conditions, lab test results, medication regimens, procedures, vaccinations, and vital sign information, CNBC reports. According to Apple officials, the data is encrypted and stored locally on a user's phone, protected by the user's iPhone passcode. Apple will not have access to the information unless a user opts to share the data, company officials said.

As part of the feature, Apple has confirmed contracts with several hospitals health systems, and clinics nationwide, including: 

  • Cedars-Sinai;
  • Cerner Healthe Clinic
  • Dignity Health;
  • Geisinger Health System;
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine;
  • MedStar Health;
  • Ochsner Health System;
  • OhioHealth;
  • Penn Medicine;
  • Rush University Medical Center;
  • UC San Diego Health; and 
  • UNC Health Care

Apple is also collaborating with several EHR vendors—including athenahealth, Cerner, and Epic Systems—to help users view their records via their phones.

Looking ahead, Apple plans to allow hospitals and other health care facilities to self-register for the feature without first meeting with an Apple representative, CNBC reports.

Part of Apple's larger move into health care

According to the New York Times, the feature marks Apple's latest foray into the health care industry, following ResearchKit, software that researchers can use to create iPhone apps to conduct research, and HealthKit, a platform that lets users share health care information across multiple apps.

Apple is also collaborating with Stanford University to assess whether the Apple Watch can help monitor heart irregularities, and, according to the Times, the company has posted several health care-related job openings to its site (Singer, New York Times, 2/24; Farr, CNBC, 1/24).

Advisory Board's take

Greg Kuhnen, Senior Director, and Peter Kilbridge, Senior Director

We're encouraged to see Apple's ongoing commitment to the broader use of mobile technology in health care. This expansion of Apple's consumer Health app to include clinical data in addition to the existing activity and vitals data will allow patients to get a more complete picture of their health and the habits that impact it. In many ways, it's a new take on past efforts by Google Health, Microsoft HealthVault, and others to provide their users with consolidated patient portals on the web, and supports a more patient-centric model for health care.

One key caveat to keep in mind: It's not a sure thing that patients will engage with clinical records. Not all patients are interested or able to engage with their clinical records independently, and data quality in many EHRs remains a challenge. Apple's expanded Health app will also compete with a broad field of EHR-supplied and third party products that also aim to provide consolidated clinical records, either through web portals or apps. Many of those platforms go beyond Apple's current offering, allowing patients to securely communicate with their care team, give feedback on outcomes, schedule appointments, pay bills, and use telemedicine services.

Looking more broadly, smartphones capture a wealth of activity and lifestyle information, including sleep habits, physical activity, heart rate, gait, and other patient entered information. These data streams are increasingly being put to use for health research and patient care through technologies such as Apple's ResearchKit and CareKit frameworks. We expect mobile technologies to play a central role in patient engagement as these capabilities are more widely adopted.

To learn more about emerging health IT technologies, join us for our upcoming webconference series, "No-Regrets Health IT Priorities for Uncertain Times."

Register for the Webconference

Our next two webconferences in the series will be of particular interest given today's news: Tomorrow, Jan. 25, we'll be discussing "Digital Health Systems"—organizations that are taking full advantage of IT-powered capabilities and innovation to improve or build new business models, customer/patient relationships, and care delivery processes. Register now.

And on Thursday, Feb. 1, we'll discuss the latest on interoperability, including the new skills and processes necessary to reap the benefits of next generation integration technologies. Register now.


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