Although Apple's Health Records is operating on a limited scale, and with a reduced smartphone market share, there are reasons to believe it will actually help create a sea change in liberating patient data.
"There's broad familiarity with the Apple brand," said Pamela Pallett, a data scientist at Fuse by Cardinal Health. "Now that they’ve heard about this so much in the news, patients may have an easier time embracing the service, once it's offered on a wider scale."
In fact, Apple already has a strong foundation of trust among healthcare consumers. According to research performed by Fuse by Cardinal Health, 80 percent of consumers would trust Apple with their health data.
Even more optimistically, 90 percent of consumers would access their personal health records with an app, were it available. In general, Apple's move comes at a good time: by 2020, 25 percent of data used in medical care will be collected and shared with health systems by patients, according to IDC research.
Still, there are significant challenges ahead. "Apple faces a steep uphill battle, especially concerning the legal implications of sharing protected health information," said Pallett. Were Apple to allow patients to consent to provide their data to academic researchers or health app developers, as many hope, or even transmit data over cellular networks, they would face thorny privacy and security questions, especially with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations.
"In many ways, it's helpful that an established tech company is tackling these problems first," said Pallett. "By paving the way, Apple can establish clear privacy and security precedents for others to follow."
Meanwhile, there are features currently unsupported by Health Records that many would nonetheless like to see. For example, patients can't retrieve their health records from previous medical institutions — only from medical providers who are currently participating in Apple's program. If a patient wants to find health records for a knee surgery performed several years ago in another state, for instance, Health Records is unable to assist.
Such an issue is caused less by a flaw in Health Records, however, than by a broad lack of interoperability remaining in the industry. Such data-sharing problems remain for industry leaders to resolve.