- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has joined forces with Apple to offer patient data access through the Apple Health Records app.
Apple Health Records leverages application programming interfaces (APIs) to allow participating healthcare organizations and hospital systems to integrate patient data and patient portal information into the smartphone app. The app also facilitates data integration from third-party tools, such as fitness trackers or nutrition apps on an individual’s iPhone.
This latest development will expand those capabilities to veterans, according to an agency announcement.
“Our Health API represents the next stage in the evolution of VA’s patient data access capability,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “By building upon the Veterans Health API, we’re raising the bar in collaborating with private sector organizations to create and deploy innovative digital products for Veterans. Veterans should be able to access their health data at any time, and I’m proud of how far we’ve come to accomplishing this.”
VA patients with iPhone devices will now be able to access their medical records, vaccination records, lab results, allergy lists, medication lists, and other pertinent information on the app. The app will be updated within 24 hours of visiting a VA provider, the agency said.
This move comes as a part of Apple’s efforts to improve healthcare for all patients, especially the nation’s veterans, said Apple CEO Tim Cook.
“We have great admiration for veterans, and we’re proud to bring a solution like Health Records on iPhone to the veteran community,” Cook said in a public statement. “It’s truly an honor to contribute to the improved healthcare of America’s heroes.”
At its core, this partnership between Apple and the VA aims to improve patient engagement. Better patient engagement often leads to better health outcomes, experts agree, and will be integral to veteran patients.
“When patients have better access to their health information, they have more productive conversations with their physicians,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s COO. “By bringing Health Records on iPhone to VA patients, we hope veterans will experience improved healthcare that will enhance their lives.”
“Our goal is to empower people to better understand and improve their health, enabling them to view their medical information from multiple providers in one place easily and securely,” Kevin Lynch, Apple’s vice president of Technology, added. “We’re excited to bring this feature to veterans across the US.”
Apple announced its Health Records project in April 2018 to much industry excitement, and has since delivered.
A May 2018 KLAS report revealed that most healthcare professionals still had a positive outlook for Apple Health Records, which to date has engaged nearly 90 healthcare organizations across the country.
The KLAS survey respondents, which included Apple’s early adopters, showed that most healthcare professionals were pleased with the technology, although they hadn’t quite had enough time to be let down.
“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.”
The app continued to get the seal of approval even several more months after its launch. A January 2019 report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that the app yielded high patient satisfaction.
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.
More time and research are necessary to understand the overarching industry impacts of the Apple Health Records app, the researchers noted. Specifically, future research is needed to understand how the tool impacts healthcare costs and patient outcomes.
“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.”