New iPhone Health app feature gives doctors easier access to data


People with smartphones and wearable devices regularly come to doctors’ offices with readouts from apps that describe everything from their heart rate to sleep patterns. Now, with the new iOS 15 update this fall, some iPhone users will be able to send data directly from their Health app to their doctors’ electronic health record systems.

That kind of integration could make it easier for patients to share information with their doctors, said Libo Wang, a cardiologist at the University of Utah School of Medicine who studies wearables. “The current workflow is slightly cumbersome and requires the patient to email the PDF, and a physician to manually upload that file to create a permanent record in the official electronic health record,” he said in an email to The edge.

Users were already able to bring in data from the other direction: Since 2018, Apple has allowed people to add records from tens from clinics and hospitals to their Health app.

The new integration will work with six electronic health records companies in the United States. So does Cerner, who controls a quarter of the market and five smaller groups. Apple says it can keep adding more. Physicians using those companies’ records would be able to access any shared data in a patient’s health record. The dashboard opens directly in the record as a web view; it does not require carriers to another third party app. The design is similar in the records for each of the six companies, Apple says.

The data from the Health app is not transferred directly to the electronic patient record. Physicians can see a window with the data, but the information is not permanently added to the record. If an iPhone user decides to stop sharing their health data, nothing remains in the health record. The system is built using a framework called SMART on FHIR, an open interface for third-party applications that can work within electronic health records. Any group can create an app using the platform.

For doctors — and cardiologists in particular — direct access to iPhone data in health records could help them make more meaningful use of the information, Wang said. a 2020 study found that when doctors directly assessed the strip generated by the Apple Watch that visually displays a user’s heart rate, they were able to flag more cases of abnormal heart rhythms than the Watch’s algorithm. Sharing the rhythm strips directly with a person’s doctor will help the doctor identify any patterns involved.

The downside, though, is the potential for information overload, Wang said. More data isn’t necessarily better, especially if doctors don’t trust its accuracy. While the data collected by wearables and smartphones may seem useful to patients, it’s still not entirely clear whether it really helps people feel better or gives them better care, he said.

Cerner, one of the electronic health records participating in the initial rollout, was able to test the new Apple feature at its onsite employee clinic. “Having secure ways to view and share this information in a clinical context has been helpful,” said Sam Lambson, vice president of interoperability at the company.

It’s becoming more common for patients to bring health data from their personal devices to health visits, and Lambson said Cerner is focusing efforts to incorporate that into its systems, even outside of the new Apple program. One advantage of the Apple system is that it is easy for doctors to use, said Jessica Oveys, director of product management at Cerner.

“I think the key to that is definitely empowering and making the patient feel central and safe, and making it easy for them to share. But it also really presents the data in a way that is useful and relevant to the clinician,” she said.