At the recent Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, the company revealed their new Health app and and HealthKit platform, to be released as part of iOS 8 this fall. Together, they will aggregate users’ health information and make it easier to gather, access, understand, and transmit.

The Health app is in part Apple’s first product for the quantified self market—giving users constant information and feedback on their weight, footsteps taken, calories burned, hours slept, heart rate, and countless other metrics. Health is broader and more powerful than any similar app, capable of pulling information from many other apps into one unified system. Health also enables those apps to communicate data about the user to each other to make them more powerful and to obviate the need to input personal information (like weight or age) into each app separately. In this regard, Health may be useful but is unlikely to be revolutionary.

If iOS has the potential to change the world of healthcare, it will be through HealthKit’s and Health’s ability to convey electronic health records (EHRs) to medical professionals. The most basic implementation of this in Health is the emergency Medical ID page, accessible from the lock screen like the “In Case of Emergency” contacts. It gives a quick listing of medical conditions, allergies, medication list and doctors to contact. This could fill the role of a diabetes bracelet, but with vastly more information.

Even more promising is the potential for HealthKit to enable transmission of medical records to new doctors. The current system of disparate types and formats of medical records, combined with strict privacy and security regulations, makes  transferring information a difficult and time-consuming process. At best it’s frustrating; other times the inability to access critical information prevents doctors from providing life-saving care.

HealthKit will enable users to store their medical records on the cloud and transfer them instantly to a new facility in any format required, providing easy access to information like lab results, x-rays, immunization records, and family disease history. Security can be maintained by requiring fingerprint authentication to release or access information. Apple is working with the FDA, the Mayo Clinic, and EHR company Epic Systems to address the inherent difficulties with privacy and logistics.

In a Forbes article, Dr. Jae Won Joh expressed enormous hope for HealthKit. “I feel that Healthkit might well be the first step in creating something akin to a universal EMR… [Apple] could potentially solve one of the single worst problems in healthcare today: the inability to easily transfer patient records from one care location to another.”

Critics have replied that HIPAA regulations are too strict for this to be feasible, that hospitals and labs will never consent to the necessary extra work on their end of connecting their data to the system, and that  EHR software like Epic’s is riddled with old code, making collaboration too difficult. Others contend that patients themselves will be too concerned with privacy to use the system thoroughly.

Health’s personally carried and transmitted EHR is a creative new idea of how to tackle this enormous problem. Regardless of the success of HealthKit as an EHR, some system will eventually overcome these barriers and provide the capability Apple seeks to create: an easily accessible, universal EHR.

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