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Health Tech

Managing Your Health Records Should Be As Easy As Managing Your Money


(Slate) – If you’ve ever had to deal with a health problem more serious than a cough, you know that keeping track of your medical records is a pain. If your doctor works for a major hospital, she may have a decent website where you can log in and, say, check your latest blood-test results. But moving information from one physician to another can be a slog that requires multiple phone calls bugging office managers to fax over files, because parts of the health care industry still rely on technology that felt retro in 2002.

Thanks to Apple, some of those frustrations may become a thing of the past. This year, with uncharacteristically little fanfare, the company rolled out a feature on the iPhone’s Health app meant to make managing your medical info as simple as online banking.

For the first time, users will be able to download their own clinical data from different doctors and hospitals directly onto their smartphones and access it all in one place, in much the way you can connect all of your checking and credit card accounts to a personal-finance app like Mint that will track your budget. The process is fairly simple: You pull up the app, search for your health care provider, and then log in as you ordinarily would to its online patient portal. The data is kept privately on your phone and never hits Apple’s servers, but updates automatically.

Right now, the Health app presents fairly basic information—lab results, medications, immunizations, and past procedures, for instance—and just a limited number of hospitals are participating in the rollout. But several industry experts I spoke with said they had high hopes for the project. The most optimistic told me that Apple might not just make it simpler to cart around your health records, but could fundamentally change the way doctors and patients use data to manage health.

Sign up for DHIN’s free personal health record portal to manage your health history.

“This is a big story,” Peter Greene, the chief medical information officer at Johns Hopkins, one of Apple’s partners, told me. “This is game-changing for digital health innovation.”

Apple isn’t the first tech company to try to bring personal health records to the masses—Google gave it a brief shot, and Microsoft still technically offers its HealthVault. But those efforts were in many ways too early, coming before most Americans were carrying around miniature computers in their pockets, and their interfaces were notoriously clunky, requiring a deadly amount of manual data entry.

Apple, meanwhile, is building on a decade of effort by the federal government to drag health care providers into the digital world—a painstaking process that for complicated reasons hasn’t yet delivered all the promises that many policymakers have hoped. As part of the 2009 stimulus bill, the Obama administration offered doctors and hospitals money to finally ditch their antiquated paper-filing systems and adopt electronic health-record systems. The dream was that, within a few years, physicians would be able to access all of their patients’ information at any hospital in the country with just a few keystrokes, leading to better, faster diagnoses and fewer redundant, expensive tests. Things didn’t quite work out that way. While the vast majority of hospitals took the funding and digitized their own internal records, the systems they used couldn’t necessarily talk to one another. A study published in 2017 in the Journal of Health Affairs found that while 71 percent of hospitals had some sort of electronic health-record system by 2015, only about 30 percent had setups that were fully interoperable with those of other providers, and just 19 percent said they often used outside data for patient care.

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