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Patients Satisfied with Apple Health Records, Data Access

Ninety percent of patients said access to Apple Health Records enhanced their understanding of their own health and communications with clinicians and family caregivers.

apple health records data access

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Seventy-eight percent of patients are satisfied with Apple Health Records, the tech giant’s foray into EHR and patient engagement technology, according to data from the University of California San Diego.

The data, published in a research note in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at initial patient perceptions of Apple Health Records.

Apple launched its Health Records app in April 2018, stating that the new tool will revolutionize the personal health record. Built on APIs, Health Records allows patients to aggregate their medical information from different wearable tools, mHealth apps, and patient portal sources.

The Health Records announcement marked a shift to more dynamic and consumer-focused health IT, according to the UCSD researchers.

“As health care delivery organizations shift from implementation of electronic health records to optimization of these systems, the persistent problem of patient data interoperability is becoming increasingly relevant,” they said. “Interest in accessing medical information from hospital records and databases and providing convenient patient-controlled portable records is increasing. Technology companies are seeking to develop innovative solutions to meet these demands.”

READ MORE: How Patient Health Data Access Drives Patient Engagement

Apple Health Records is thus far succeeding in those ventures, the UCSD researchers stated. In a brief, anonymous survey of the 425 UCSD patients who had activated their Apple Health Records accounts, the researchers found that the tool is meeting patient expectations.

Ninety-six percent of respondents said they could easily connect their mobile devices to the platform, and 78 percent said they were satisfied using the feature.

Ninety percent of respondents said the tool had enhanced their healthcare experience and communication in some way. Apple Health Records had either improved their understanding of their own health, facilitated more meaningful conversations between themselves and their providers, or created more in-depth health conversations between themselves and a family caregiver.

However, only 48 percent of patient respondents said they saw improvement in all three of those above-mentioned areas.

The researchers acknowledged that some of the excitement around Apple Health Records could be credited with its newness.

READ MORE: Health Systems Boost Patient Data Access with Apple Health Records

“As with many other new products and solutions, such enthusiasm is common from early adopters,” the researchers explained. “The platform will need to prove that it is useful, sustainable, scalable, and actually improves health outcomes.”

It will be essential for health IT experts to monitor the downstream impacts of more accessible PHRs. Will access to a PHR improve patient outcomes or cut costs? Further research and more time with the tool will be key in answering that question.

In addition to Health Records’ novelty, the maturation of the health IT industry may have contributed to the tool’s success. Why is Apple succeeding where Google and Microsoft previously failed? The answer has more to do with timing than with technological prowess, the researchers suggested.

When Google and Microsoft began their ventures in the EHR and health IT space, Apple and Android were just coming out with their first smartphones. The patient-facing technology was nowhere near universal adoption and technology was not yet advanced.

“Early adopters of the first generation of commercial personal health records experienced limited accessibility and variety of features, and most importantly, a lack of meaningful integration with hospital data,” the UCSD researchers noted. “Adoption of the first wave of personal health records was quite limited.”

READ MORE: Apple Releases Health Records API for Patient Data Sharing

For example, the Google Health venture was defined by limited patient accessibility, indecipherable text, and incomplete or missing results. When functionality did work, it often lacked the dynamic capabilities that patients crave today. Google Health did not allow for secure messaging or online appointment scheduling, two important features that draw patients to their PHRs.

“Such challenges are now easier to overcome given the more robust ecosystem of apps ready to use the data with patient consent and improved integration with major electronic health records,” the authors pointed out.

Since the Google and Microsoft ventures, smartphones have become nearly ubiquitous. Patients know how to use these tools, they have hundreds of thousands of patient engagement apps available to them, and they have adopted a culture of immediate information access into their lifestyles. In other words, the time is ripe for a smartphone-enabled personal health record.

And because it is now more feasible that these technologies can motivate healthy behavior change in patients, clinicians will have a new set of tools to perform their jobs, the authors explained.

“Electronic personal health records are now well positioned to facilitate the flow of this potentially powerful clinical data to health care delivery organizations and application developers,” the research team stated.

“Although it remains too soon to draw firm conclusions, the continued development of patient-facing health care technologies by well-established technology companies suggests that the digital health care landscape may now be sufficiently mature to foster the broad adoption of personal health records,” they added in conclusion. “Whether these technological advances ultimately improve patient outcomes, lower costs, and improve quality remain the most important unanswered questions.”

Patients are not the only ones who are bullish on Apple Health Records. A May 2018 KLAS performance report showed that most of Apple Health Records’ early adopters have high hopes that the tool will drive better patient data access.

“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.”

However, should Apple fail to scale the technology and leverage its full patient engagement potential, it may go the way of Google and Microsoft. It will be essential for the tool to integrate the features patients want and need to fully upend the health IT industry.

“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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