Apple’s $921 billion market valuation, perched atop the Fortune 500, reflects investors’ belief that the company’s relentless growth should continue in coming years. And an iPhone-based health record product, a test version of which Apple released in late January, could be a pivotal part of the expected progression.
“We view the future as consumers owning their own health data,” Apple COO Jeff Williams told CNBC.
The new Health Records section, accessible from the iPhone’s Health app, lets users stream in encrypted data (e.g., allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vital signs) from leading EHR systems. The idea empowers consumers to share passcode-protected data on-demand with their primary care doctor or hospital personnel.
As of March, nearly 40 U.S. hospitals had signed on to participate in Apple’s Health Records project.
David Harlow, who heads a healthcare law and consulting practice, pointed out the long-term promise inherent in Apple’s initiative: allowing more people than ever before to access their own health data more easily. If the pilot succeeds, he added, healthcare systems of all sizes across the country would be able to connect their respective EHRs to the Apple conduit.
Indeed, among a dozen Health Records beta sites interviewed by research firm KLAS Enterprises, all recognized the product’s potential to facilitate patient-provider interaction and help consumers improve care self-management. Patient record portability should be possible soon, according to 59 percent of beta testers, with associated benefits (giving patients access to their data, using the data to engage patients, and integrating data into patient care) expected within six months.
At the same time, however, Harlow cautioned that Apple faces several short-term challenges:
- Health Records is currently limited to personal health record data, not the full scope of EHR data.
- iPhone users account for only 15 percent of the overall smartphone market (although physician iPhone usage hovers around 75 percent).
- The pilot’s relatively small size limits demonstration of data integration from multiple provider organizations.
- Data flows only in one direction — from provider to patient.
Harlow concluded that it’s not yet possible to predict whether Health Records will become ubiquitous, although consumer advocates like Apple’s approach to handling end-user data. (It stays on the phone and Apple won’t be mining it for other purposes.)
Nonetheless, a practical consideration — some patients have to pay their provider more than $500 for a single medical records request, while others encounter an annual subscription fee, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report — could disrupt emerging data-sharing models. In this environment, Apple has gotten a head start on allowing patients to own and control their health data, even across disparate systems.
Integration in the Healthcare Ecosystem
NetDirector views these developments in a positive light as they relate to integration advances across healthcare. If Health Records and similar projects take flight, cloud-based platforms such as NetDirector’s HealthData Exchange will assist with streamlined adoption and implementation. The net result will be the ability for healthcare stakeholders to quickly and accurately put in place patient-centric services.