Author: Clement Ng
The Apple Health app has officially launched Health Records on the iPhone in Canada and the UK.
Oxford University Hospitals Group and Milton Keynes University Hospital (in the UK) and Women’s College Hospital, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, and Mackenzie Health (in Canada) are among the first to take advantage of the new feature and offer the service to patients. In the United States, over 500 institutions with over 11,000 locations are already doing so today.
For other health care providers in Canada and the UK, this development presents both an opportunity to provide a better patient experience and a challenge to do so with limited time and resources. Let’s start with the opportunity.
Improving the Patient Experience with Apple Health Records
The promise of Apple Health Records is to provide patients with easy and secure access to their health information in one convenient place (their iPhone).
By combining information from a variety of sources, iPhone users are able to get a comprehensive snapshot of their health in one app; as opposed to fragmented, often difficult to access information that resides in disparate silos. Patients are able to see information about their allergies, diagnosis, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures, and vitals, along with their own user-generated data, like sleep and exercise metrics.
The goal is to complement and increase the uptake of patient portals and to empower patients to take greater control of their health by removing the inconvenience of having to sign into multiple systems to access pieces of their health information.
After initial set up, patients are notified on their device every time their medical information is updated and can instantly access that information within the app. No need to open an email. No need to remember or reset a password. No visit to, or call with, their primary care provider required.
To ensure privacy, Apple Health creates a direct connection between the iPhone and the health care provider. The data is encrypted and always protected by the user’s iPhone password, Touch ID, or Face ID.
The end result is a better patient experience that is able to keep pace with the ever-rising expectations of consumers. Patients receive a more complete, up-to-date picture of their health with much less hassle than ever before. They’re able to be more engaged with their care and take greater ownership of their health.
Seizing the Opportunity
The only thing more clear than the benefit to patients is the challenge to health care providers.
Budgets are often tight. Development resources are few and far between. Yet, priorities are endless. Even institutions that are acutely aware of the technology-driven disruption taking place in healthcare today must make tough decisions and figure out how best to allocate scarce resources to position themselves for success in the years to come.
COVID-19 has highlighted the limitations of interacting with patients in traditional healthcare settings and, as a result, providers are being forced to rethink their care delivery strategy. As the capabilities of smartphones and wearable technologies continue to expand and become more widely available, integrating with these devices is going to become increasingly central to staying relevant in patients’ lives and delivering not just reactive, but proactive care.
Apple has simplified and streamlined integrating with Apple Health by using FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) to standardize the underlying data layer and by using SMART (Substitutable Medical Applications and Reusable Technologies) to ensure that data is accessible.
Collectively known as SMART on FHIR, these technologies allow providers to connect their systems to third party apps—or build their own apps—in less time and with fewer resources.
Smart on FHIR in Action
A major health care diagnostics and life sciences company in the US partnered with Smile Digital Health to build a FHIR-based clinical data platform that enables Apple Health integration and provided patients with easier access to their lab results. Beyond Apple Health, leveraging Smile provided this partner with a scalable FHIR platform to power future interoperability projects.
With over 100 million patient encounters each year and results from millions of lab tests each week, the integration needed to be flexible, robust and secure. It also had to be future-proofed and versioned to support the newest FHIR specs, while also granting access to third-party apps.
With the help of Smile's experienced team, the integration was achieved in less than six months and used 25-33% fewer developers than would normally be devoted to such a project. The labs provider reported that the process was faster and less painful than it would’ve been had they attempted to integrate on their own, and they were able to go to market quickly, fully integrated with Apple Health.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
Putting patients at the center of the health care system is by no means a new trend. The shift toward value-based care has been happening for years and has only accelerated as a result of COVID-19. The long-heralded technology disruption in health care is finally upon us, and health care providers and institutions of all stripes must figure out how they are going to survive and thrive in the new digital ecosystem.
By turning the iPhone into a secure repository for patient health data, Apple has created an opportunity for health care providers to give their patients frictionless access to up-to-date medical information, improving their experience and empowering them to engage more fully in their own care.
The challenge before health care providers is to seize the opportunity without hindering their other development efforts or saddling their dev team with a mountain of ongoing maintenance.
Apple, iPhone, Apple Watch, Touch ID, Face ID, and HealthKit are trademarks of Apple Inc. Any reference to or mention of Apple, iPhone, Apple Watch, Touch ID, Face ID, or HealthKit does not constitute or imply the authorization, sponsorship, endorsement, recommendation or approval of Apple, Inc.
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