IN LATE JANUARY, Apple previewed an iOS feature that would allow consumers to access their electronic health records on their phones. Skeptics said the move was a decade too late given a similar (and failed) effort from Google. Optimists argued that Apple was capable of translating health data into something meaningful for consumers.
But the announcement portends great things for consumers and the app developers seeking to serve them, from our perspectives as the former US chief technology officer under President Obama, and as an early adopter of the Apple service as Rush University Medical Center’s chief information officer. That’s because Apple has committed to an open API for health care records—specifically, the Argonaut Project specification of the HL7 Fast Health Interoperability Resources—so your doctor or hospital can participate with little extra effort.

This move is a game-changer for three reasons: It affirms there is one common path to open up electronic health records data for developers so they can focus on delighting consumers rather than chasing records. It encourages other platform companies to build on that path, rather than pursue proprietary systems. And it ensures that the pace of progress will accelerate as healthcare delivery systems respond to the aggregate demand of potentially millions of iPhone users around the world.

Understanding the promise of this announcement requires a bit of historical context. In the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, President Obama signed into law the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included more than $37 billion for investing in the adoption and use of electronic health records by doctors and hospitals. Tucked away in that program was a comparably modest $15 million investment in research and development to bring to life a vision of applications inspired by Apple’s App Store. That R&D funding contributed to the development of the open API standard that Apple now requires of providers wishing to make the feature available to their patients.

Spurred by financial incentives in the Recovery Act, the Affordable Care Act and in 2015, the bipartisan Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, providers are implementing health IT systems that are certified to meet certain government requirements.




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