People with smartphones and portable devices regularly show up at the doctor’s office with readings from apps that describe everything from their heart rate to sleep patterns. Now, with the new iOS 15 update this fall, some iPhone users will be able to send data directly from their Health app to their doctors’ electronic medical record systems.
This type of integration could make it easier for patients to share information with their doctors, said Libo Wang, a cardiology fellow at the University of Utah School of Medicine who studies wearables. “The current workflow is easily cumbersome and requires the patient to send the pdf file by email and a clinician to manually upload the file to create a permanent medical record in the official electronic medical record,”
Users could already retrieve data from the other direction: Since 2018, Apple has allowed people to add records from dozens of clinics and hospitals to their Health app.
The new integration will work with six electronic medical record companies in the United States. This includes Cerner, which controls about a quarter of the market, and five smaller groups. Apple says it can continue to add more. Physicians using the records from these companies will be able to access all shared data in a patient’s medical record. The dashboard opens as a web view directly inside the entry; it does not take providers to another external app. The design is similar within the records for each of the six companies, Apple says.
The health app data is not transferred directly to the electronic health registration. Doctors can see a window with the data, but the information is not permanently added to the record. If an iPhone user decides to stop sharing their health data, no one will remain within the health record. The system is built using a framework called SMART on FHIR, an open interface to third-party applications that can work in electronic health records. Any group can create an app using the platform.
For doctors – and especially cardiologists – direct access to iPhone data in health records can help them make more meaningful use of the information, Wang said. A 2020 study showed that when physicians directly reviewed the band generated by the Apple Watch, which visually displays a user’s heart rate, they were able to mark more cases of abnormal heart rhythms than the clock’s algorithm marked. If the rhythm strips are shared directly to a person’s physician, the physician may be able to identify any patterns that pertain.
The downside, however, is the potential for information overload, Wang said. More data is not necessarily better, especially if doctors do not trust its accuracy. While data collected by wearables and smartphones may seem useful to patients, it is still not entirely clear whether it actually helps people feel better or gives them better care, he said.
Cerner, one of the electronic healthcare record companies involved in the initial rollout, was able to test the new Apple feature at its on-site clinic for employees. “Having secure ways to view and share this information in a clinical context has been helpful,” said Sam Lambson, vice president of interoperability at the company.
It is becoming more and more common for patients to bring health data from their personal devices for health visits, and Lambson said Cerner is focused on efforts to integrate it into its systems, even outside the new Apple program. One benefit of the Apple system is that it is easy for physicians to use, said Jessica Oveys, director of product management at Cerner.
“I think the key to that is definitely to empower and make the patient feel at the center and be safe and make it easy for them to share. But it really presents the data in a way that is actionable and relevant to the clinician, ”she said.