Apple’s new health data sharing feature is part of the patient-controlled data trend


Earlier this week, Apple announced a new health sharing feature that gives patients the reins in sharing consumer-generated health data with their doctors, family and friends.

Apple has been working on giving patients more access to their data for years. In 2018, the company rolled out Health Records on iOS, which aggregates existing user-generated data in their Health app with data from their EHR if the user is a patient at a participating hospital.

This new feature turns the tables  instead of patients accessing medical data generated by the health system, the patient is in the driver’s seat, sharing their own information. This information includes everything from mobility trends to heart data. Additionally, users are able to share lab results with those of their choosing.

When it comes to sharing the data, it’s not an all-or-nothing approach. Users are able to pick and choose what data points they share with whom. For example, users may share their labs with their children, but not their mobility data.

“We’ve added powerful features that give users the most comprehensive set of insights to better understand their health trends over time,” Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Many people around the world are caring for someone, and we want to provide a secure and private way for users to have a trusted partner on their health journey. We’re excited to bring these innovative tools directly into users’ hands.”

To share data with doctors, Apple will integrate directly with a handful of EHRs. The initial list, which notably omits Epic, includes Cerner, Allscripts, athenahealth, CPSI, Meditech Expanse and Dr. Chrono.

“Going back to 2018, there was that capability for a patient or person to put electronic medical record information on their phones through the Apple iPhone Health app,” Sam Lambson, vice president of interoperability at Cerner, told MobiHealthNews. “And what’s really exciting about this innovation that was announced on Monday is it closes the loop and brings the patient data back into the visibility of the clinician, in a secure and identity-proof way, so that the patient can essentially hand over control or visibility to their data in a very controlled way to their clinician.”

Cerner’s employee health service, the Healthe Clinic, was one of the sites that tested and validated the new technology.

“What we’ve seen is the ability, especially around wellness and lifestyle change, for patients to in more and more granular ways demonstrate their progress over time, adhering to a lifestyle change type regimen that involves more than just the clinical measures that you take in your doctor’s office, but a holistic view of activity over time, which is present in their devices. Those are some of the enhancements in the experience between patients and providers,” Lambson said.

Patient-generated data isn’t exactly a new trend. Jessica Oveys, director of product market management at Cerner, said the company’s EHR has had capabilities for several years that allow patients to contribute to their health records. For example, patients can report what medications they are taking or their allergies. Medical teams can then review this data and determine if it’s appropriate to add it to a patient’s chart.

“The reality is there’s always a really strong clinical decision that needs to get made there to make sure that what we’re adding is actually accurate with that review. That would be an organizational preference,” Oveys said. “I think what we’re seeing with Apple is an expansion of that where they’ve done kind of both sides of it. The patient side of aggregating that information. Maybe they’re taking on new data types that we haven’t traditionally seen be captured and then also provide that provider experience as well.”

The new feature rollout is just one of many efforts to enhance patient engagement.

“I would re-emphasize how important it is to the big theme of patients being involved in their own health decisions,” Lambson said.

There are several trends driving patients to be more involved in their health decisions, including high-deductible plans and COVID-19, he added.

“There’s a lot of reasons that are driving people wanting needing to be in more in control, in charge of their information and their data, and for it to go with them wherever they want, and that is backed up by regulations and innovation in the market,” Lambson said.

“I think that this is really just a manifestation of that broader trend. And it goes well beyond Apple. This is just a really visible milestone for many of these trends that have been underway for years.”