After many months of speculation, Apple has announced it is launching a personal health record feature with iOS 11.3, with the beta version launching yesterday to users in Apple's iOS Developer Program.

The feature called Health Records will aggregate existing patient-generated data in the Health app with data from a user's electronic medical record — if the user is a patient at a participating hospital.

At launch, Apple is working with 12 hospitals across the United States, including Penn Medicine, Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, Johns Hopkins, and Geisinger Health System.

“Our goal is to help consumers live a better day," Apple COO Jeff Williams said in a statement.

"We’ve worked closely with the health community to create an experience everyone has wanted for years — to view medical records easily and securely right on your iPhone. By empowering customers to see their overall health, we hope to help consumers better understand their health and help them lead healthier lives.”

Users will be able to view allergies, medications, conditions and immunisations, as well as clinical information they might access via an EHR patient portal, such as lab results. They can also be notified when the hospital updates their data.

The feature will use HL7's FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) specification and data will be encrypted.

Many of the hospitals participating at launch have a history of digital health innovation. Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, for instance, has been a major user of Apple products for some time — the hospital distributes iPads to patients for entertainment and communications purposes, and has a comprehensive patient app for the phone and the Apple Watch.

"Putting the patient at the centre of their care by enabling them to direct and control their own health records has been a focus for us at Cedars-Sinai for some time," Cedars-Sinai Chief Information Officer Darren Dworkin said in a statement.

"We are thrilled to see Apple taking the lead in this space by enabling access for consumers to their medical information on their iPhones. Apple is uniquely positioned to help scale adoption because they have both a secure and trusted platform and have adopted the latest industry open standards at a time when the industry is well positioned to respond.”

Apple says additional health systems are set to sign on in the coming months.

News of Apple entering into the EHR or PHR business did not come as a surprise to the industry. Apple acquired Gliimpse, a small health data start up, in August 2016.

Gliimpse was working on a PHR that skirted HIPAA difficulties by having the patient control their own health data. The main innovation of the product was an AI engine that reads medical records (with patients' permission, accessing them via the patient portal) and breaks down and codes them into a standardised and readable language. Gliimpse CEO and founder Anil Sethi left Apple last year after serving in the role of director of health technologies, according to his LinkedIn page.

CNBC also reported in June last year that Apple was working with start up Health Gorilla, which specialises in aggregating diagnostic information such as bloodwork. 

PHRs have a long and storied history in digital health. In addition to countless start ups, both Google and Microsoft have attempted to create viable PHRs.

Google Health's failure in 2011 was much discussed and Microsoft has announced its HealthVault Insights app-based project will be pulled this month.

Apple has advantages no other company has ever had in this space, including the company's long-term approach, introducing HealthKit, ResearchKit and CareKit gradually, as well as its massive global market share.

Originally published in the US edition of Healthcare IT News.




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