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Outlook Is Promising for Apple Health Records, Patient Data Access

Apple Health Records is slated to overcome interoperability issues while driving better patient data access.

apple health records patient data access

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Most of the Apple Health Records early adopters have high hopes that the fruit will deliver better patient engagement and patient data access, according to a new KLAS performance report.

However, there is room for pitfalls should Apple fail to effectively scale its technology and leverage it to its fullest engagement power, the report noted.

Apple announced its Health Records app earlier this year, stating that the tool will collect patient health records in CDA (Clinical Document Architecture) format from HL7 FHIR providers. The technology was also set to notify patients when providers made changes to their health records.

“Our goal is to help consumers live a better day,” Apple CEO Jeff Williams said in a statement at the time. “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.”

The initial Health Records rollout included 19 health systems, but has since spread to 39.

READ MORE: Apple Launches Health Records to Support Patient Data Access

In a recent survey conducted by KLAS, the early Health Records adopters have expressed excitement about the new app.

“The revelation created a stir for at least a few reasons,” the report authors posited. “(1) Apple is a consumer-oriented healthcare outsider; (2) Apple is attempting to make inroads where peers Google and Microsoft have failed; and (3) the feature has the potential to impact millions of patients given the iPhone’s broad customer base.”

The researchers asked the 39 early adopters about the app’s capabilities and expected impacts, the timeline of those effects, potential hurdles, and other challenges Apple might face. Specifically, the researchers sought insights about how Apple might succeed where other technology giants – including Google and Microsoft – have failed.

The respondents said Apple has the power and the ingenuity to back up its claims about the Health Records app. Thus far, the company has been delivering on its promises.

“Immediately, Health Records is expected to help solve the intractable challenge of interoperability by allowing iPhone users to store their health records on a device that is already omnipresent in their lives,” the reported noted. “This convenience is expected to increase patient satisfaction and also engender in patients an expanding sense of self-ownership and self-involvement in their own care.”

READ MORE: How Patient Data Access, Education Improve Patient Safety

Two-thirds of respondents said the new technology will drive patient empowerment. Another 58 percent said it could alleviate interoperability problems, 50 percent noted it could speed up innovation in the health IT space, 33 percent said it could facilitate consumer app development, and 25 percent said it could open healthcare to outside vendors.

Positive impacts from the Health Records app may be seen in as little as six months, said 60 percent of respondents. One-third of users said they expect to see improvements in six months to one year, while 8 percent said it could possibly take longer than that.

There is a lot working in Apple’s favor, the respondents continued. Timing, the company’s consumer expertise and trust, and flexible timeline make it easy for Apple to innovate the right technology to overcome some of healthcare’s data woes.

But it will likely still be an uphill battle, the respondents added. Apple doesn’t have much experience in healthcare, and given the complexity of health data and government regulations, building a patient-facing engagement tool will be difficult. After all, this is an area in which other technology giants such as Google and Microsoft have not yet succeeded.

Despite those apprehensions, early adopters still say chances are high that Apple will build a viable technology option.

READ MORE: How Patient Portals Improve Patient Engagement

“Apple’s early provider partners say Apple has a good chance of not repeating history and that the timing is right— EMR adoption has never been higher, and thus electronic records have never been as available; smartphones are more entrenched than ever; and interoperability standards (like FHIR) have never been as advanced,” the KLAS report said. “More importantly, healthcare now needs Apple’s creativity and proven success with consumers more than it needs entrenched healthcare perspectives.”

Apple Health Records’ main utility is in engaging the patient, early adopters have indicated. Although the app has the capability to spark outside app development, most (75 percent) current users will be using it for patient data access. Fifty percent said they are going to use Health Records as a part of their current patient engagement efforts and 33 percent are going to integrate it into patient care.

When it comes to actively using the product, most early adopters are taking a back seat. Twenty-five percent plan to allow Apple to drive patient adoption, while 17 percent are going to watch and learn from other adopters before making changes.

“Beyond data portability, most participants feel they lack the experience and expertise needed to pursue creative uses, such as consumer app development,” the report noted. “Instead, they will let third-party developers from outside healthcare take the reins while they watch and learn from the sidelines.”

The key to Apples’ success, respondents said, will be the ability to scale education, adoption, and data complexity. Currently, only 5 percent of health systems are using Health Records. Apple will need to leverage connections throughout the health IT space to solidify its success.

“In order to reach more than one-third of these, Apple will need to expand to EMR vendors beyond their current partners (athenahealth, Cerner, and Epic),” the report concluded. “In terms of capabilities, participants say that being able to upload data back into the EMR will be vital and that eventually Health Records’ data model will need to support more detailed data than the C-CDA data elements handled today.”

 

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