Tech giant Apple is in talks with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide portable electronic health records (EHRs) to military veterans, according to a Wall Street Journal report published Tuesday.
According to people familiar with the effort and emails reviewed by WSJ, under the plans being discussed Apple would create special software tools allowing the VA’s estimated nine million veterans currently enrolled in the system to transfer their health records to iPhones and provide engineering support to the agency, the article says.
In January, Apple announced that it was launching a feature that allows consumers to see their medical records right on their iPhone and began testing the Health Records feature out with 12 hospitals, inclusive of some of the most prominent healthcare institutions in the U.S. Since that time, more than 100 new organizations have joined the project, according to Apple.
According to the WSJ article, top VA officials, as well as associates from President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, discussed the project last year in a series of emails reviewed by the Journal. The emails show how the Trump administration wrestled early on with the project’s goals, the article says. An Apple spokeswoman said the company has nothing to announced, according to the article.
Technology companies are looking to tap into the $3.2 trillion health care market. Google recently tapped Geisinger Health System CEO David Feinberg, M.D. to assume a leadership role over its healthcare initiatives. Amazon, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Berkshire Hathaway have formed a healthcare joint venture and tapped Atul Gawande, M.D., as CEO of the initiative.
“The VA partnership has the potential to accelerate Apple’s efforts to overcome past challenges by allowing it to tap into one of the nation’s largest, concentrated patient populations,” the WSJ article states. To date, Apple has had to take a more patchwork approach, signing agreements with hospital networks and relying on them to encourage patients to import their medical records to iPhones using the new Health Records feature.
WSJ reporters Ben Kesling and Tripp Mickle wrote, “The company’s ultimate goal is to enable patients to import their records and share them with health-related apps, which would use data to provide services like automated prescription refills, according to people familiar with Apple’s plans.” Apple would take a 15 to 30 percent cut of those subscriptions as it does with most apps offered through its App Store, Kesling and Mickle wrote.
According to Kesling and Mickle , Apple first approached the VA in early 2017, citing a person familiar with the effort. Company and VA officials were excited about the project’s promise because it would allow true interoperability and portability of health data between doctors and software platforms, the person said, according to the article.
“Apple and the VA were developing the technology among a relatively small group of experts and officials, which required non-disclosure agreements, according to an email reviewed by the Journal from Darin Selnick, a senior advisor to the VA secretary at the time,” the article says.
Some of the early discussion involved Dr. Bruce Moskowitz, a doctor affiliated with Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf club, who wasn’t a government employee and has no official role at the VA, the article says. “Dr. Moskowitz laid out a series of goals for the technology early in the process, including the ability for veterans to find a variety of health care facilities near them by using geotagging features and to quickly share test results and track prescriptions,” the article states.
Moskowitz also envisioned a system that would allow active duty troops to take advantage of the technology, another potentially massive patient base, the article says. At the time, VA officials stated in emails that they were most interested in focusing on doctor certifications, patient control of data and development of a suicide-prevention app, according to the article.