Why Apple’s Plan for Health Records Will Work

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Product Creation Studio is pleased to bring you exclusive content by Heather Thompson, a senior editor for Medical Design & Outsourcing and former editor-in-chief of MD+DI magazine.  With 15 years of experience covering medical technologies and FDA regulations, Heather specializes in delivering the latest trends and news in the medical device industry. 

Apple made game-changing news in health care circles a few weeks ago when it announced a plan to enter the personal health record space with Apple Health. The new feature interacts with electronic health records at a dozen hospitals, pulling disparate EHRs into a single, accessible format for consumers.

The news may invite skeptics to question whether the company will be successful; especially since other giants, namely Google and Microsoft failed to make inroads a decade ago.

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I think Apple will succeed for a few different reasons:

  1. The market is a lot further along in terms of availability of cloud-connected medical and health technologies.
  2. The availability of online patient records is growing and patients are being treated more like consumers.
  3. The technology for secure access has improved.

Connected Market Growth

Edge computing and the sheer number of medical devices that rely on connectivity to work is staggering. IoT devices are used by both consumers and caregivers to provide biometrics that can help with disease prevention, managing chronic disease, and improving post-surgical care. Markets and Markets estimates that the IoT healthcare market worth $158.07 billion by 2022. Industry watchers believe 2016 was a breakout year for digital health products and the market seems to be on an exponential path. However, the industry is still characterized by a lack of interoperability. That interoperability is where Apple’s platform might help.

Patient Consumerization

A decade ago, medical records were still being faxed, passed along from care organization to care organization. Patients would rarely see their own medical records, nor were they encouraged to make decisions on care. Today, many payers and health providers make medical records accessible to all patients through managed secured websites with increasing frequency. Systems for patient education is more on par with consumer education, encouraging choice of procedures, cost analyses, risk/benefit information.

Again, we are dealing with a challenge of interoperability. Today, however the basic infrastructure of EMRs is digitized, making interoperability far more approachable than it was 10 years ago.

And of course, the smartphone has become a singularly powerful hand-held computing tool—one that many people interact with multiple times per day. This is a distinct shift away from designing for healthcare providers and focusing instead on everyday users. Further, the increasing costs of healthcare and the restructure of health plans built on high deductibles is driving consumers to take more of a decision-making role in what care they select.

Security Measures

The security of health data has been significant challenge in the last several years, one that does not yet have a full solution. However, there are some exciting technologies that could be used to improve cybersecurity for healthcare products. 

For example, Blockchain technology, which has been largely responsible for the success of bitcoin is now being explored for other markets, including healthcare. Secure access to patient data is a major issue in healthcare. Patients have a hard time accessing their records and hospital networks need to transfer the data between networks if a patient chooses a new provider.

Blockchains are collections of data and records (blocks) linked together and secured using cryptography. They are designed to be secure and are part of a distributed computing system. Blockchain functions are decentralized–and the lack of a central point of failure (a vulnerable central point that can be easily hacked) makes blockchains ideal for securing medical records.  

How Apple is Letting the Market Determine Value

They say timing is everything. Although many have stepped on this path, Apple may succeed where others haven’t, simply because it waited until all the disparate pieces were in place.

And just a quick observation: Apple’s platform of inviting developers to build software for iPhones will work here, too. Apple is not trying to create the entire ecosystem, but letting the market determine where it sees value. Users are invited to push their heath data where they will get the most personalized and engaging experience—that is a very modern definition of success.