BayCare Health System, a 15-hospital system based in Clearwater, Fla., is moving forward on many technology fronts to enhance patient engagement and patients’ access to their medical records, as well as expand healthcare services through digital platforms.
BayCare Health System is one of 39 health systems across the country collaborating with tech giant Apple on its health records initiative. The Health Records feature is now available through the health system for patients who have downloaded iOS 11.3 to their phones. Apple announced its health records solution in January with 12 health systems participating as beta testers, and two months later, on March 29, Apple tripled the number of health systems participating, from 12 to 39, which increases the number of patients across the country who can view their medical records right from their iPhones.
A recent report from Orem, Utah-based KLAS Research found that CIOs at the 12 early adopter health systems were optimistic about the Apple Health Records app, and the short-term and long-term potential to impact how provider organizations interact with patients and how patients manage their health. Close to 60 percent of respondents said they expect Apple’s “ready-to-go” patient-record portability to have an immediate positive impact, within zero to six months. According to the report, healthcare executives mentioned three primary benefits of the app—empowering patients, helping to solve interoperability, and speeding innovation and change.
BayCare Health System has made patient information available through the myBayCare patient portal online for several years. The patient portal also is accessible through the BayCare app. Tim Thompson, senior vice president and CIO at BayCare Health System, views the Apple Health Records initiative as another step to improve patient engagement and enhance patients’ involvement in their own care.
“It’s just another avenue for a health system’s patients to have their information at their fingertips. It’s still based off the exact same data that comes out of our portal, so if somebody is used to Apple technology and does other tasks in the Apple health app, that’s another piece of their personal health information that they have at their fingertips inside their app. That is now live and available to patients,” he says.
Since Apple’s health records announcement, industry observers have questioned if the tech giant would be able to succeed in creating a health records platform, especially since other consumer-oriented healthcare outsiders, specifically Microsoft and Google, have failed at this very endeavor. According to the recent KLAS report, Apple’s early provider partners believe Apple has a good chance of not repeating history and that the timing is right. “EMR adoption has never been higher, and thus electronic records have never been as available; smartphones are more entrenched than ever; and interoperability standards (like FHIR) have never been as advanced,” the report stated.
“I think largely those [previous] efforts reflect hospitals putting as much information online as they could to meet a meaningful use criteria, and it wasn’t that helpful to patients,” Thompson says. “Once you get home from the hospital, at least for me personally, I’m not that interested in looking at what my lab values looked like five days ago in a hospital. However, if I’m a chronic patient, and now it’s in my ambulatory office, in my doctor’s office, in my clinic, or at my urgent care center, now I can go in and get my blood tests, on a routine basis, and now I can look at that information and I can see trends. That gives the power to the patient to help them manage their health. I think that’s the difference. I think early on, it was about an encounter at a hospital, and now it’s about managing your health.”
He adds, “At BayCare, for example, whether you have been at our hospital, our urgent care center, at one of our physician’s offices, or to our lab, all those pieces of information are there for the patient to access, and patients can be a part of managing their own care better.”
The KLAS report on the Apple Health Records initiative found that, among the early adopters, most organizations’ formal plans for it are limited to its most immediate benefit—allowing patients to download their patient records. “This benefit requires relatively little time, effort, or cost from healthcare providers,” the KLAS report stated.
Thompson echoes this perception that integrating with the Apple Health Records app requires very little lift for providers. “The fact that [the IT team] completed the integration in two weeks indicates that it went incredibly smooth. Both Cerner and Apple were engaged with our team and we were able to get that done very quickly,” he says. Currently, Apple’s electronic health record (EHR) vendor partners are Epic, Cerner and athenahealth.