Apple Dives Into Complex Field: Your Medical Records
By Tripp Mickle
With its leap into the electronic health-records field, Apple Inc. is trying to solve a problem that has vexed tech companies for years: simplifying disparate networks of medical information and putting more data into the hands of consumers.
Apple on Wednesday said an update to its operating system for iPhones and iPads this spring will include a new "Health Records" feature that will import and store medical information covering allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals.
A dozen hospitals are participating, including Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles and Penn Medicine in Philadelphia.
The effort to securely simplify and democratize health records won't be easy, say physicians who watched Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google wrestle with similar efforts over the years.
Apple's late arrival to medical records, though, gives it advantages its rivals didn't enjoy, physicians say, including the benefits of more consolidated hospital networks and concentration among medical-record systems.
"Apple is in the right spot," said Eric Topol, author of "The Creative Destruction of Medicine" and a physician at the nonprofit Scripps Research Institute. "There's a long ways to go still," he said.
Starting in 2011, the U.S. government spent an estimated $40 billion in stimulus money on health-care information technology, according to McKinsey, encouraging doctors and hospitals to install electronic-medical-records systems and triggering a massive shift toward electronic health information.
Apple said it has secured participation from two of the U.S.'s largest medical-records providers, Epic Systems Corp. and Cerner Corp., which account for more than 50% of medical-records management, as well as Athenahealth Inc., which accounts for almost 2%, according to KLAS Research, which analyzes the industry.
But Apple needs to get more hospitals to share data in order for the Health Records feature to be valuable, said Noga Leviner, co-founder of PicnicHealth, a startup that helps patients consolidate their medical records.
Some hospitals in the same system use different variations of electronic medical records -- even from the same provider -- and oftentimes don't have agreements to share data, Ms. Leviner said. People want complete medical-records information -- not just records from only one of their six doctors, she said.
"The government spent $40 billion on this and they failed" to bring those hospitals together, Ms. Leviner said.
Another challenge: expanding information beyond simple listings such as allergies and recent lab results, she said. Tens of millions of Americans with chronic conditions need far more detailed information, such as pathology reports for cancer patients or medical images for people with knee injuries.
Apple's push into medical records is its latest effort to break into the $3.2 trillion U.S. health-care market. Last year, the company announced its first medical study of heart rhythms using the Apple Watch and it launched HealthKit in 2014, providing a way for different health apps to share information.
HealthKit helped Apple earn the trust of physicians and hospitals since it includes standards that comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, said Richard Milani, a physician at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans who focuses on tech in health care, and works with Apple.
Dr. Milani said HealthKit helped create a secure system that can be used to transfer medical records to the Health Records feature. Apple said Health Records will encrypt patients' information to protect their privacy.
Apple also is adopting the leading standard for transferring electronic records known as the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, or FHIR, making it easier for hospitals and medical-records vendors to share information with the iPhone maker, he said.
Apple didn't respond to questions about what it will do with patient data or where and how it would store health information.
The company also hasn't said how -- or if -- it could make money off Health Records. Dr. Milani said the company won't charge hospitals or patients for using the service. He added: "They're not going to make any money off this. The only way to monetize this is to say, 'We offer something a competitor doesn't offer to sell more devices.'"
If it works, Health Records could ease a burden on patients, Dr. Milani said. He envisions a future where an iPhone user from Louisiana might be on vacation in Michigan and in need of medical treatment. Rather than the hospital having to look up that patient's records, the patient can pull them up on a phone.
"This is a consumer-empowerment move," Dr. Milani said. "You'll have all the information about you and you'll control it, and that's exactly who should control it."
Write to Tripp Mickle at Tripp.Mickle@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 24, 2018 17:43 ET (22:43 GMT)Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.