There are all kinds of health apps that track blood pressure, medications, nutrition, exercise, you name it. WebMD has one. Weight Watchers, Nike, FitBit, and CVS pharmacy and Walgreens pharmacy do too. A huge new player coming to the market in the fall of 2014 is Apple's "Health" app, which will be a standard feature of the new iOS8. Health will provide users an easy-to-read dashboard that integrates all their fitness and health data into one convenient place.
The Health app will gather data from many fitness and health apps, giving easy to access information on exercise, lab results, medications, food, sleep, and vitals, such as blood pressure.
Health also includes a new tool called "HealthKit" that will allow outside developers to give their own apps access to your health data, even giving you the ability to share that data with your doctor's EHR.
The connections between EHRs and Apple's Health app don't exist yet, but they may be active as soon as this fall. I question whether doctors would be interested in such a gadget, as it could potentially provide a lot of irrelevant data. But, a feature of Health gives patients the ability to choose which data they wish to share with health providers, so perhaps the doctor would just want to receive daily blood pressure or weight measurements.
Apple worked with the Mayo Clinic for the past five years to develop HealthKit. They have also been working with UCLA and Stanford Hospitals, Cambridge University Hospitals, Nike, and Epic.
Mayo Clinic's marketing medical director, John Wald, says they want to use their own health app to communicate with the HealthKit's cloud information repository, using it to access personal health information and develop relationships with their patients, before they get sick. They are already using their app with HealthKit to monitor specific vital signs such as blood pressure, and to alert the doctor if readings are out of normal ranges.
Wald says he is convinced that physicians will use this new technology, since their lives can be made easier by keeping patients healthy. It also could help physicians earn some extra money if they are taking advantage of payer incentives that reward them for keeping their patients out of the hospital. Physicians can be slow adopters of new technology, so it remains to be seen whether this will pan out.
Here's what I see as practical user benefits and adoption tips:
• HealthKit-type programs could help with compliance. The second stage of the government's meaningful use requirements includes patient engagement through electronic tools. Most often this happens through either a secure Web portal or secure messaging between patient and physician. Since one of the requirements is that at least 10 percent of patients actually use that system, geeky people like me might gravitate toward it more, if apps are available for health interaction.
• Medical data sharing and monitoring may help physician offices get some of those insurance bonuses for keeping their patients healthy. And wearable devices that communicate the data directly will be more accurate than the patient's self-report, for instance, of how much the patient exercised this week.
• If using an EHR giant like Epic, the technology may be closer to going live than you might think. If you use Epic, start talking with your vendor now to start planning for this future functionality.
• Patients will have to be aware of the Health app. Once the new technology is available it could be communicated to patients in the same way you communicate about your patient portal. Some offices give every patient a handout on the portal and how to access it. Include the apps you communicate with, and the data you would like them to report.
• Choose specific information to have the patient share so the data is not overwhelming and potentially ignored due to sheer volume. This new digital functionality may just be the next version of disruptive technology in the healthcare world.