Apple takes a bite out of healthcare

HealthKit finds favor with Epic, Cerner, athenahealth and more
By Mike Miliard
02:14 PM
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When Apple announced in June that it was working with the Mayo Clinic on  an app that would integrate healthcare information from other third-party apps – including one from Mayo – offering a comprehensive medical view on a mobile device, we were intrigued.

Apple’s HealthKit platfom (with an app called, simply, Health) was notable for its ability to present patients and physicians a holistic view of medical data, and also, wrote contributor Evan Schuman, for changes in Apple development tradition, where data for any app couldn’t be accessed by any other app or (for the most part) by the operating system

That data-sharing promises huge potential healthcare benefits, he wrote, but also raised questions privacy and security.

"We carefully protect (patient) privacy so (the patient) can have total control over which applications have access to which part of (their) healthcare information," said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering assured Healthcare IT News.

Apple also forged a partnership with EHR behemoh Epic Systems Corp., around an app named Haiku, which gives doctors access to patient records, for for a while the details of how it all worked remained foggy.

When the newest iPhone operating system, iOS8, was released in mid-September, at first HealthKit wasn't part of it, as a coding snafu discovered in the platform has developers in Cupertino, Calif., rushing to fix it.

As they did, though, normally tight-lipped Epic has began to offer some details about what the platform will look like when the kinks are finally ironed out. Epic President Carl Dvorak offered a few more details about just how HealthKit might transcend its role as a mere consumer device data repository, confirming that Epic's personal health record will have a big role to play.

"Apple's HealthKit has tremendous potential to help close the gap between consumer collected data and data collected in traditional healthcare settings," wrote Dvorak in an email to VentureBeat. "The Epic customer community, which provides care to over 170 million patients a year, will be able to use HealthKit through Epic's MyChart application – the most used patient portal in the U.S."

Epic spokesman Brian Spranger offered still more detail, describing to VentureBeat's Mark Sullivan how a device such as the WiThings Wi-Fi-enabled scale could "notify HealthKit that it has a new weight and ask HealthKit to store that weight in the database on the iPhone."

From there, "If the patient has given permission for the MyChart app on their phone to know about that data, HealthKit 'wakes up' the MyChart app and tells it there's new data," according to Spranger. "The MyChart app on the phone then transmits that weight back to the EpicCare EHR system where it can be used appropriately as part of the patient's medical care."

But Epic won't be the only electronic health record company to leverage Apple's HealthKit technology: Both Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner and Watertown, Mass.-based athenahealth are working with Apple to develop patient-facing tools that will make use of data aggregated via HealthKit.

Abbe Don, vice president of user experience at athenahealth's mobility subsidiary Epocrates, told Reuters that the cloud-based EHR company will test a "proof of concept" app with its client Hudson Headwaters Health Network: "There is an awful lot we can do with HealthKit," she said.

Meanwhile, Cerner Senior Director Brian Carter, who focuses on personal and population health, said the plan is for clinical caregivers to access data from HealthKit, with patients' consent, via Cerner technology. The first step will be focused on "smaller organizations," he told Reuters, with an eye toward proving HealthKit's value in managing chronic conditions.

In October, Healthcare IT News’ Erin McCann reported New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System was the first Epic EHR shop to integrate its electronic health record with Apple's HealthKit, making for seamless data exchange between clinicians and their patients.

"In the past, we relied on patients to log information, bring it to us, and then we would input the data and decide a course of action," explained Robert Bober, MD, director of cardiac molecular imaging at Ochsner Medical Center, in an Oct. 6 press statement. "Now we can share information seamlessly between patient and physician to allow real-time, accurate analysis of a patient's health status.”

But Ochsner is not the only health system working to integrate HealthKit into its EHR. This summer, there were reports that Apple was also teaming up with Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins and Mount Sinai, according to Reuters. 

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