Hospital and physician software vendor Epic Systems Corp. is integrating Apple’s HealthKit into its EHR systems, which serve more than 170 million patients per year. Specifically, Epic customers will be able to use HealthKit through Epic’s MyChart app, which the company says is the most popular U.S. patient portal.

MyChart provides patients with access to their lab results, appointment information, current medications, immunization history, and more on their mobile devices.  Sumit Rana, chief technology officer for Epic, told Health Data Management that the company has updated its MyChart app to—with a patient’s permission—access data from Apple’s HealthKit data repository and share it with their provider. And, on the provider side, Rana said clinicians can set rules as to what types of information they want access to.

“This has pretty profound implications for chronic disease management such as diabetes to be able to track how a patient is doing, providing a care team with a more complete picture of the patient’s health story,” says Rana. He argues that the HealthKit-MyChart integration “bridges the gap between consumer-collected data and data collected in traditional healthcare settings.”

A software development tool from Apple, HealthKit enables health and fitness apps to communicate with each other and to share data. In addition to Epic, two other leading EHR vendors--Cerner and athenahealth--are reportedly working with Apple to develop apps that leverage HealthKit.

“Using the HealthKit, if you were getting activity-based data, it’s helpful for the care managers back at the health system to know,” asserts Rana, who sees the technology as helpful for keeping a patient healthy once they are discharged from the hospital by “reducing the chances of complications so that a patient does not have to be readmitted.”        

He says that the latest partnership with Apple is a continuation of their long-standing relationship. Epic was one of the first companies to put apps for physicians and patients on the iPhone and iPad.

Available from Apple’s iTunes store, Haiku—which runs on the iPhone and iPod touch—provides authorized clinical users of Epic’s EHR with secure access to clinic schedules, hospital patient lists, health summaries, test results and notes. For its part, Canto--which works on iPads--offers physicians the same functionality.

“When Apple was getting ready to start to work on [HealthKit], they invited us to share our thoughts on it,” according to Rana. “We collaborated and we gave them our feedback on how best to deploy something like this to the type of healthcare organizations that we serve, which are the large health systems.”

Announced in June at its Worldwide Developers Conference, HealthKit is part of Apple's iOS8 software developers’ kit, the latest developer OS for its iPhones and iPads. However, HealthKit has not been without its challenges. Last week, Apple announced that it pulled HealthKit from inclusion in its new iOS8 mobile-software release after the company discovered a bug. According to Apple, the tools will be available later this month.

“Software can have bugs and it’s better to get it right rather than to rush it,” argues Rana, “especially when it involves healthcare. I’m not concerned about it. We expect to see an update and then people will be on their way.”

At the same time, Rana said he is also encouraged by the fact that Apple is trying to be sensitive to how consumer health data in apps using its HealthKit software development platform will be used, as evidenced by the vendor’s rules which include significant protections for consumers.

“As a developer of an app, you have to include a privacy statement and Apple also specifically prohibits the selling and sharing of data for the purposes of advertising,” says Rana. “It must be used for providing health and fitness services or research.”

“Our expectation is that obviously HealthKit will continue to evolve. For instance, we expect Apple to add more types of data that can be tracked through HealthKit, and as that’s done we expect to update our application to take advantage of it,” he adds.


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