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Apple Unveils mHealth Integration With EMR Data Through Health App

Apple's new iOS upgrade will enable users to collect EMR data from 12 national health systems on their iPhones and iPads. The mHealth integration gives patients an easier pathway to managing their health data.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Patients at 12 national health systems will soon be able to access their EMR data on an iPhone or iPad, thanks to an mHealth upgrade from Apple.

The tech giant announced this week that iOS 11.3 will include a feature that allows users to access their electronic medical records through the Health app. The feature, Health Records, collects data in CDA (Clinical Document Architecture) format from participating providers through the HL7 FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) standard, and alerts the user whenever new data is entered.

A beta version was made available on January 24, and officials expect it to be available as a free download within a few months.

“Our goal is to help consumers live a better day,” Apple CEO Jeff Williams said in a press release. “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.”

“By empowering customers to see their overall health, we hope to help consumers better understand their health and help them lead healthier lives,” he added.

Those health systems participating in the digital health partnership are:

  • Johns Hopkins Medicine, based in Baltimore;
  • Cedars-Sinai Health in Los Angeles;
  • Penn Medicine, based in Philadelphia;
  • Geisinger Health System, based in Danville, Pa.;
  • UC San Diego Health;
  • UNC Health Care, based in Chapel Hill, N.C.;
  • Rush University Medical Center in Chicago;
  • Dignity Health, which serves patients in Arizona, California and Nevada;
  • Ochsner Health System, based in Jefferson Parish, La.; 
  • MedStar Health, which serves patients in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia;
  • OhioHealth, based in Columbus, Ohio; and
  • Cerner’s Healthe Clinic in Kansas City, Mo.

“Putting the patient at the center of their care by enabling them to direct and control their own health records has been a focus for us at Cedars-Sinai for some time,” Darren Dworkin, Cedars-Sinai’s Chief Information Officer, said in the Apple release. “We are thrilled to see Apple taking the lead in this space by enabling access for consumers to their medical information on their iPhones.”

“Streamlining information sharing between patients and their caregivers can go a long way towards making the patient experience a positive one,” added Stephanie Reel, Chief Information Officer at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Initial reviews were positive, though admittedly limited. Roman Dillet, writing in TechCrunch, said the update “looks very thorough based on the screenshot,” and added the capability could be especially helpful to those who keep track of their health records for chronic issues like high cholesterol.

“It’s going to be hard to convince every single hospital and clinic around the U.S. and around the world to adopt the new Health Records feature,” he added.

Apple has reportedly been working with EMR vendors like Cerner, athenahealth and Epic to facilitate interoperability with the app. Kevin Lynch, the company’s vice president of technology, recently told CNBC that those companies “have been an enabling, and not a blocking factor.”

"It's difficult to think about something more significant than health records," Williams added. "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."

The long-awaited announcement continues a string of recent mHealth projects for Apple, which is battling with the likes of Google, Microsoft and even Amazon to create a seamless digital health connection between the consumer and his/her care providers through online resources and mHealth devices.

Right before this year, news surfaced that the company may be developing an ECG sensor for its Apple Watch, giving the wearable an important function that could make it a prime candidate for remote patient monitoring programs.

At almost the same time, Apple and Stanford University’s School of Medicine announced the Apple Heart Study, a clinical research project enabling consumers with cardiac issues to use the Apple Watch and an accompanying app to collect data on their cardiac activity, share it with researchers and even connect with a healthcare provider through American Well.

Apple has already established a strong link with providers and clinical research programs through the ResearchKit, HealthKit and CareKit platforms.

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