E-Patient Update: Apple Offers iPhone EMR Access

Over the last few years, Apple has steadily beefed up the health data access provided by its iPhone operating system, in ways that have made some sense. But depending on how consumers react, its latest effort may have the biggest impact of all of its data sharing efforts to date.

In its latest mobile operating system, Apple is allowing users to store their EMR data directly in its Health app, using the HL7 CCD standard. And while this isn’t a huge step forward for interoperability, it does give e-patients like me a greater sense of control, which is definitely a good thing.

In recent years, Apple has made increasingly sophisticated efforts to unify healthcare data. Perhaps the highest profile effort is the summer 2014 launch of HealthKit, a healthcare data integration platform whose features include connecting consumer-generated data with traditional clinical sources such as the Epic EMR.

Meanwhile, it has steadily added capabilities to the Health app, which launched with iOS 8. Since then, it has been encouraging consumers to manage health data on their phone using HealthKit-enabled apps like the Epic MyChart patient portal app. The new EMR data retrieval function is available in the iOS 10 version of Health.

According to Apple blog 9to5Mac, consumers can import the CCD data from Mail, Safari and other applications as well as into Health. When consumers add the CCD file to Health, the app opens and providers a quick preview of the document’s data, including the healthcare provider’s name, patient’s name and document owner’s name. It also identifies the document’s custodian. Once downloaded, the device stores the document in encrypted form, indefinitely.

Also, when a user confirms that they want to save the record to the Health app, the CCD info is added to a list of all of the health record documents stored in the app, making it easier to identify the entire scope of what a user has stored.

Looked at one way, the addition of medical record storage capabilities to the latest iOS release may not seem like a big deal. After all, I’ve been downloading broad swaths of my healthcare data from the Epic MyChart app for a couple of years now, and it hasn’t rocked my world. The document MyChart produces can be useful, but it’s not easily shareable. How will it change patients’  lives to store multiple records on their cell phone, their tablet or heaven help us, their Apple Watch?

On the surface, the answer is almost certainly “not much,” but I think there’s more to this than meets the eye. Yes, this solution doesn’t sound particularly elegant, nor especially useful for patients who want to share data with clinicians. My guess is that at first, most consumers will download a few records and forget that they’re available.

However, Apple brings something unique to the table. It has what may be the best-integrated consumer technology base on the planet, and can still claim a large, fanatical following for its products. If it trains up its user base to demand EMR data, they might trigger a cultural shift in what data patients expect to have available. And that could prove to be a powerful force for change.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.