Apple’s health records system a ‘nice start’ but offers limited data to patients

Apple’s newly announced addition to its Health app will allow users to access parts of their medical records on their iPhone, with 12 major hospitals and health systems signing up to test the new system—though one health industry group said the feature will be of “little use for sick people.”

Those systems are:

  • Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore
  • Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles
  • Penn Medicine in Philadelphia
  • Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa.
  • UC San Diego Health in San Diego
  • UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill, N.C.
  • Rush University Medical Center in Chicago
  • Dignity Health
  • Ochsner Health System in Jefferson Parish, La.
  • MedStar Health
  • OhioHealth in Columbus, Ohio
  • Cerner Healthe Clinic in Kansas City, Mo.

The new medical records integration will be only available if iPhone users download the 11.3 “beta” version of Apple’s iOS software. The “deep integration” of medical information into the iPhone’s main functions could provide many opportunities that existing health system mobile apps haven’t accomplished, such as reminding a patient to take a prescribed medication or even finding a better price for that treatment.

Since the information will reside on the patient’s device, they can send the information to anyone they choose, including health systems or providers which use a different kind of electronic health record (EHR). 

“The key is to find a way to utilize this health data where someone puts in the right algorithms that really cause the most relevant data to bubble to the top so then you can message it how you want to. If that can happen, that’s going to be a great use,” Cheryl Pegus, MD, director of the Division of General Internal Medicine and Clinical Innovation at New York University School of Medicine, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Society for Participatory Medicine had a lukewarm reaction to the announcement. In a blog post, SPM co-founder and chairman emeritus Dave deBronkart said the Apple project is “a nice start,” but won’t offer data patients can’t already access through portals, limited to “allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals.”

That “paltry” data set, he wrote, won’t help sicker patients.

“Information is power; a little information is a little power; withholding the rest is to withhold power,” he wrote.

One positive impact he expected to see quickly was patients seeing errors even in the small data set available, which he hoped would show users “how important it is to be an active, engaged e-patient.”