Apple’s Health Records App: A Ripple or a Roar?

Knowing my blood pressure results from my last doctor's appointment six months ago will not motivate me to take a walk after dinner.

To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Or so it seems.

Last week, Apple made a big announcement that headlines and excited many in our industry. They have enlisted two of the largest medical records companies, Epic Systems and Cerner, as well as Athenahealth, and a number of respected healthcare institutions, including Johns Hopkins Medicine, Cedars-Sinai, Penn Medicine and UC San Diego Health. And, according to their press release, they have built their newly updated Health Records app based on FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources), which is the interoperability standard for transferring electronic medical records.

Apple’s Health Records App

Apple’s Health Records App

This is all good very good news. I might add that Apple has build an undeniable reputation on their ability to create beautifully designed and highly intuitive software and highly integrated hardware. I dare say, no one does it better.

But I can’t help but recall similar attempts to create health data repositories for patients on their mobile devices. In 2012, Google shut down Google Health after just three years due to “lack of widespread adoption.” Microsoft HealthVault has also seen its share of challenges since it launched in 2007. Of course, Apple entered the health market in 2014 with its Apple HealthKit which, to date, has not been the game-changer it was originally expected to be. A few weeks after the HealthKit launch, I actually catalogued my wish list for Apple HealthKit, and several themes from that 2014 post are still very relevant.

While I applaud Apple and their partners for this latest attempt to put personal health data into the hands of consumers, we should keep a few important caveats in mind. Why haven’t these tech giants — and others — been successful? Why won’t this latest announcement from Apple revolutionize healthcare? I have a few theories.

First, access to medical records is just not that compelling for the average consumer. Think about it. How many times do you wake up in the morning and feel the urge to check your medical records? Don’t get me wrong. It should be an imperative to have easy access to important personal health data, that you can simply and securely share with your healthcare providers, or access in an emergency. I have long been a vocal proponent to giving individuals access to their personal health data.

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Knowing my blood pressure results from my last doctor's appointment six months ago will not motivate me to take a walk after dinner.

But that leads me to my second point. Access to personal health records will not magically improve clinical outcomes, or even motivate individuals to better manage their health and wellness. As we now know from our work at Partners Connected Health, it takes a sustained, highly personalized experience, seamlessly imbedded into our daily lives, in order to change behavior that can lead to better outcomes. Knowing my blood pressure results from my last doctor’s appointment six months ago will not motivate me to take a walk after dinner.  We must not think that access to health records will automatically lead  to improved health outcomes.

My third caveat is that, while this is a very worthwhile advance for Apple users, but what about those committed to devices that run on an Android operating system? According to data from Gartner, in QI 2017, 86% of smartphones sold worldwide ran on Android. If we are going to make personal health records available to consumers, we must make it device agnostic in order to create real change.

I suggest that we more closely examine how Apple’s new Health Records feature is actually different from past attempts.  It will likely be much easier to set up than Google Health or HealthVault and anything on a mobile platform is immediately more accessible. Apple also has their wonderful consumer design capabilities to bring to the party.  Undoubtedly, they will talk about those instances where an individual whose home is in Massachusetts breaks a leg skiing in the Rockies and is able to present her health record to folks in the Denver emergency room.  This is progress.  There are just so many other problems that providing access to medical records don’t solve.  Medical record data is not that compelling from a consumer perspective.   If they bring something to the table that inspires consumers to care (and Apple knows how to do this), that could be transformational.

Will history repeat itself? Will the promise of making personal health records just an app away fizzle or, at best, create a ripple rather than a roar? Time will tell.

What do you think? Is this déjà vu or do you think this will help to improve the quality of care?