In the latest indication of Apple’s growing ambitions in the digital health market, the tech giant on Wednesday unveiled a new feature that would allow users to automatically download and see parts of their medical records on their iPhones.
The feature is to become part of Apple’s popular Health app. It will enable users to transfer clinical data — like cholesterol levels and lists of medications prescribed by their doctors — directly from their medical providers to their iPhones, potentially streamlining how Americans gain access to some health information.
A dozen medical institutions across the United States — including Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles — have agreed to participate in the beta version of the new feature. Apple plans to open the beta test to consumers on Thursday.
Apple said it will not see consumers’ medical data, which is encrypted and stored locally on the iPhone, unless the user chooses to share it with the company.
“It’s really strange to me that you can easily pull up all of your spending record on your credit card going back a long way in every detail, yet your health is way more important and you don’t have easy access to your health information,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “We want to make sure that consumers are empowered with information about their health.”
Tech giants including Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, are going head-to-head to obtain a larger slice of American health care spending, which amounts to more than $ 3 trillion annually.
Apple, more than the others, has been reticent to publicize its long-term vision for health technology. But recent product introductions, like the new health records feature, highlight how focused Apple is on using its iPhone, Apple Watch and apps to give people more control over their health care.
In addition to the iPhone Health app, Apple has developed ResearchKit, software to help researchers develop iPhone apps to conduct health studies, and HealthKit, a platform that allows consumers to share health data on their iPhone or Apple Watch with health and fitness apps. Apple is also sponsoring clinical research, called the Apple Heart Study, at Stanford University to determine whether an app for the Apple Watch can detect irregular heart rhythms.
A review of Apple’s current job openings also gives clues about the company’s wider ambitions in the health care sector.
According to the company’s site, Apple is seeking a hardware engineer to develop “next-generation” health sensors for products like the iPhone and iPad; software engineers for the company’s “health special projects team” to join “an exciting new project at an early stage”; an engineering manager for the company’s motion technologies team “to help shape the next set of groundbreaking features” in fitness and health; and a biomedical scientist to help design studies for health, wellness and physiological measurement apps.
“We will empower you to engage with a variety of internal teams and external partners to continually question the limitations of technology implemented in health products,” says an Apple job description for a health tech hardware development engineer.
Apple’s personal medical record feature is hardly a new idea. With much fanfare about a decade ago, both Google and Microsoft introduced free services — called Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault — that helped consumers centralize their personal health data.
But the concept of the personal medical record did not generate widespread adoption in that era, which predated the popularization of the iPhone and mobile apps. Google shut down Google Health in 2011. Microsoft still offers its HealthVault service.