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How Apple Brings Health Records to the Smartphone


Thanks to FHIR, no data passes through Apple servers.

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Imagine reaching into your pocket, grabbing your smartphone and reaching your medical data with just a few flicks of the finger. Many iPhone users don’t need to strain their brains — the capability already exists.

Ricky Bloomfield, M.D., Apple’s clinical and health informatics lead, highlighted what the company’s Health Records app looks like and how it works this morning at the ONC Interoperability Forum in Washington, D.C. Although additional updates are scheduled this fall, the app is capable of downloading electronic health record (EHR) data from roughly 80 participating health systems, representing hundreds of hospitals and clinics, to a user’s iPhone.

>> READ: How Apple’s API Fits into Its Burgeoning Healthcare Stack

“It’s a secure, private connection to you and does not traverse Apple’s servers,” Bloomfield said, navigating attendees through a virtual tour of the app.

What he revealed was the stuff that health IT professionals dream of: Upon signing in, users may select relevant providers and then download their medical data to their phone, accessible anytime, anywhere. Once a user connects to a health system, every subsequent entry to their EHR is automatically downloaded to the phone.

The end product was an interface stocked with data related to allergies, vital signs, immunizations, procedures, medications, lab results and more. Alongside these data points sat fitness information — the kind of daily stats collected by wearables and other digital-health tools.

Prowling the health data of a fake user, Bloomfield examined their cholesterol levels and other data, finding high triglyceride levels. Simple graphs and ranges represented the data, easily understood by the typical app user.

“One might even say that this represents a single longitudinal health record,” he added. “When you actually need it, when you’re at clinic and trying to fill out that form, it will be right there in your pocket.”

So, how did Apple accomplish this? By using the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard and the Argonaut implementation guide, tools for developers looking to achieve interoperability.

Apple began the venture earlier this year with just 12 health systems signed on as partners. Bloomfield credited the rapid-fire growth to the use of FHIR and existing work performed by EHR giants like Epic and Cerner.

How much bigger the experiment might grow remains unclear, but it’s conceivable that Apple will do its best to team up with every health system it can.

In the fall, the tech titan plans to release an updated version that could connect users and their health data with third-party app developers. Bloomfield displayed and describe several permissions screens, all of which Apple tweaked to better safeguard the sensitive nature of EHR data. But the opportunity represents the first, or most streamlined, time that developers may create apps leveraging data from several EHRs, he said.

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