Apple Health Records API owes much to FHIR standard

Developers will create ecosystem of healthcare iOS apps, available this fall, leveraging a common data format.

Apple’s new Health Records API—offered to developers to help them create apps for better disease management, medication tracking and nutrition planning—would not be possible without HL7’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources standard.

So said Jason Morely, software engineer on the Apple health team, during the company’s 2018 Worldwide Developers Conference held last week in San Jose. At the event, the company announced the availability of the Health Records API, enabling developers to access healthcare data and “work with it,” resulting in the creation of apps that empower patients.

Also See: Apple to offer Health Records API to developers

“Users interact with multiple healthcare institutions over the course of their lives—and, these are often running different electronic health record systems that don’t always represent data in the same way,” Morely pointed out. “This makes interoperability incredibly difficult.”

To address this problem, he noted that healthcare providers and vendors came together in an effort called the Argonaut Project, an industry-wide effort to accelerate the development and adoption of FHIR, which “allows data to be downloaded in a common format and related across multiple institutions.”

According to Morely, Apple’s Health Records feature currently enables patients at more than 500 hospitals and clinics to access medical information from various healthcare institutions via FHIR and its “rich data format” to organize it into one view on their iOS devices.

“We aggregate data from multiple healthcare institutions and present it in a timeline allowing users to search (and) better understand their health data,” Morely told developers in a WWDC session on accessing health records with HealthKit, which provides a central repository for data, including health records containing information such as lab results, immunizations and medications downloaded directly from these institutions.

An ecosystem of apps based on the Health Records API, available this fall, will communicate with HealthKit—provided they have users’ permissions—to access and share this data, he added. “Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without the fantastic standards work of the Health Level Seven organization with their Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources or FHIR” as well as the SMART Health IT project, an open, standards based technology platform that enables innovators to create apps that seamlessly and securely run across the healthcare system, Morely observed.

As Apple noted in its announcement last week regarding the availability of the Health Records API, the company anticipates that developers will build apps that “can individualize experiences, with the user’s permission, based on the user’s unique health history across key categories” including disease management, medication tracking and nutrition planning.

For instance, the Medisafe app—available in the App Store—will integrate with Apple’s Health Records API to help patients keep track of medications and learn about harmful drug-to-drug interactions, using a comprehensive view of their medication list from different hospitals and clinics.

According to Apple, Medisafe will “connect with the Health Records feature so consumers can easily import their prescription list without manual entry, quickly enabling pill reminders and allowing the user to receive relevant medication information.”

“We’ve dedicated a lot of resources to make it happen,” commented Omri Shor, founder and CEO of Medisafe, who said his company has worked previously on a medication management app for the Apple Watch and was involved in the launch of HealthKit.

Shor contends that Apple’s new Health Records API is the “next step in empowering individuals” with their healthcare data. When it comes to integrating the Medisafe app with the Health Records feature, he adds that “continuity of care, ease of use, and accuracy of information” are among the major benefits to patients who will be able to take their medications on time and safely. “This technology is going to save peoples’ lives.”

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