Apple is undertaking efforts to expand HealthKit to become a portable repository of all of a person’s medical records, CNBC reports. The idea would be to expand the iPhone beyond a place to simply record health and wellness data into a database of a user’s entire medical history — doctor’s visits, lab results, prescriptions, and more — keeping all of this data easily at hand. According to the CNBC report, another secretive team in Apple’s health unit has already been in discussions with various medical professionals and hospitals about bringing clinical data to the iPhone. The data would be stored locally — and presumably securely and privately — on the device, and users would have the option of sharing it from there with third parties, such as when changing doctors or being admitted to a hospital. A source also said that Apple has been looking at possible acquisitions among cloud hosting start-ups as part of this plan.
Such a move could potentially solve a long-standing problem in the medical community — that of helping patients have more control over their own medical data, and in particular to share that data easily between doctors as they move through the medical system. As the CNBC report notes, most of this data still gets handed around as PDF files attached to emails, or faxes between doctor’s offices. This problem also often results unnecessary mistakes and missed diagnoses as information gets lost or simply not passed on in a timely manner. Apple has apparently been in talks with two health IT industry groups, “The Argonaut Project” and “The Carin Alliance,” that have already been working to make this goal a reality by promoting open standards for health information and giving patients control over their own medical data. Apple has also hired several top developers involved with the FHIR protocol for exchanging electronic health records.
The attempt by Apple to solve this problem wouldn’t be the first time a technology company has gone down this road. Google created Google Health as a web-based patient health record service but shut it down in 2011 due to a lack of any real interest. As several experts have pointed out, getting traction is a key problem when creating a service that only those who have a reason to pay attention to their health are going to be particularly interested in. However, Apple has a proven track record in promoting user engagement for its services, and already has an in within the medical industry, where most doctors already use iOS. Apple’s strong stance on data privacy and security will also likely help the medical industry and individual users to be far more comfortable with their iPhone as a place to store private medical information.