People with smartphones and wearables regularly show up at the doctor’s office with testimonials from apps that detail everything from heart rate to sleep patterns. Now, with the new update of iOS 15 this fall, some iPhone users will be able to send data directly from their Health app to their doctors’ electronic medical records systems.
This type of integration can make it easier for patients to share information with their doctors, said Libo Wang, a cardiology associate at the University of Utah School of Medicine who studies wearables. “The current workflow is slightly time consuming and requires the patient to send a PDF by email and manually upload this file by a clinician to create a permanent entry in the official electronic medical record,”
Users can now download data from the other direction: as of 2018, Apple allows 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 keep adding more. Physicians who use the records from these companies will be able to open all shared data in the patient’s health card. The dashboard opens as a web view directly in the record; does not lead suppliers to another external application. The design is similar in the records for each of the six companies, Apple says.
Health application data is not transferred directly to the electronic health record. Doctors can see a data window, but the information is not permanently added to the record. If an iPhone user decides to stop sharing their health information, no one is left in the health record. The system is built using a framework called SMART on FHIR, an open interface for third-party applications that can run within electronic health records. Each group can create an application using the platform.
For doctors – and especially cardiologists – direct access to iPhone data in health records can help them use the information more meaningfully, Wang said. A 2020 study found that when doctors directly viewed a strip generated by the Apple Watch that visually showed the user’s heart rate, they were able to signal more cases of abnormal heart rhythms than the Watch algorithm noted. If the rhythm strips are shared directly with someone’s doctor, the doctor may be able to identify any affecting patterns.
The downside, however, is the potential for information overload, Wang said. More data is not necessarily better, especially if doctors do not believe in its accuracy. Although data collected from wearable devices and smartphones may seem useful to patients, it is not yet entirely clear whether it actually helps people feel better or gives them better care, he said.
Cerner, one of the e-health companies involved in the initial launch, was able to test Apple’s new feature at its on-site clinic for employees. “Having secure ways to review and share this information in a clinical context has been helpful,” said Sam Lambson, the company’s vice president of interoperability.
Increasingly, patients are transferring health data from their personal devices to health visits, and Lambson said Cerner is focused on efforts to incorporate it into its systems even outside of Apple’s new program. One advantage of Apple’s system is that it’s easy for doctors to use, said Jessica Owes, director of product management at Cerner.
“I think the key to it is certainly empowering and making the patient feel at the center and making it easier and easier for them to share. But it also really presents the data in a way that can be applied and appropriate to the clinician, ”she said.