This article is from the Digital Health Briefing, a new morning email providing the latest news, data, and insight on how digital technology is disrupting the healthcare ecosystem, produced by BI Intelligence.
An update to Apple’s iOS, announced Wednesday, included a beta version of its Health app that will allow iPhone users to store and share their medical records from a range of healthcare systems in the US. So far, 12 hospitals and clinics have partnered with Apple for the pilot, including John Hopkins Medicine, Cedars-Sinai, and Penn Medicine. These hospitals will be able to push health records notifications to eligible consumers’ phones, including medications, immunizations, lab results, and vitals. A beta version of the app became available on January 24 with the iOS 11.3 update, and officials expect it to be available as a free download within a few months.
The Health app update is an important step in solving the interoperability issues that plague the electronic health records (EHR) market. That’s important because healthcare is being increasingly consumerized and patients are more willing to move between systems that provide the best experience, rather than staying within a specific network, according to a 2017 survey by West. And because most healthcare systems have different IT standards, this can result in mismatched or incomplete patient EHRs, creating issues with the standard of care and causing a bottleneck in patient triage.
Eventually, the update could evolve into allowing patients to add real-time data to their medical records, such as exercise and sleeping patterns. That would give care providers a much fuller picture of the patient’s health, helping with things like chronic illness management, preventative medicine, and improving the overall quality of care.
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For Apple, the update is an important value-add for its devices and could make them more appealing to consumers, here’s why:
- Self-monitoring of health is a rapidly growing industry. Consumers want control over their own health data; that includes tracking it, who owns it, and who can access it. Health and fitness app usage has grown 330% over the last three years, according to Flurry. Moreover, over 50% of consumers are using their health and fitness apps more than once a week. Apple can take advantage of this by providing an easy-to-access, centralized location for users’ health and fitness data
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- The Apple ecosystem is closed, meaning you’ve got to have an iOS device to be a part of it. Apple devices account for around 40% of the US smartphone market as of November 2017, according to Kantar. That means that consumers outside of the iOS ecosystem won’t have access to these interoperable features.
Apple still faces several hurdles as it moves more aggressively into the digital healthcare market. It’s possible that not all hospitals or healthcare systems will want to accept the new feature. And there is some concern that storing patients’ health records on their devices could result in data security vulnerabilities since the API needs to be open for data to be accessed and shared. Cyber-attacks against health data are becoming more common as more information is being stored digitally.
Consumers don’t trust tech companies with their health data. Just 9% of consumers are willing to share their health history data with tech companies, according to a Rock Health survey. That’s compared to 79% who would be willing to share their health data with physicians, and 37% who said they would share their health data with insurance companies. And while consumer sentiment has likely shifted somewhat since 2016, it presents a solid barrier Apple must overcome if it hopes to convince consumers to store their health data on their devices.
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If Apple’s beta program is successful, it’s likely that we’ll see more integration between healthcare systems and tech giants. Tech giants’ substantial consumer footprint make them an appropriate gateway for patient EMR. Moreover, expertise with cloud computing and data mining could mean that caregivers are able to turn the massive amounts of health data into actionable insights within population health – something that individual research institutions and hospitals are unlikely to have the computing power to achieve, according to Kalorama.