Could Apple’s move into EHR allow pharma to connect directly to patients?

Apple's new push into personal health data, called Health Records, looks to democratize medical record access for patients. (Image: Apple)

Apple has disrupted the music industry, the phone industry, the computer industry, the photography industry and an arguable list that goes on and on. But can it do the same in healthcare? Its latest move into EHRs may be its biggest play yet, some industry watchers say, and holds potential for pharma companies looking to open direct channels to consumers

While details about Apple’s specific EHR plans are still emerging, it seems clear the tech giant is looking to democratize health records. Its initial moves look to gather a patient’s personal health records—often scattered across labs and providers—in one easily accessible place.

And that access? Via an iPhone, of course.

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Doctors and healthcare professionals would presumably have that cross-view, too, at least when patients permit it. And somewhere down the road, if Apple's personal EHRs do take off, patients could be allowed to opt in to pharma communications or share anonymized data about their conditions.

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The most exciting thing right now is allowing patients broad personal health record access they haven’t had in the past, said Destry Sulkes, chief data officer at WPP Health & Wellness. That, in turn, will likely lead to an increase in patient motivation and interactions with the health industry, which could include suggestions based on health data.

“In much the same way that Apple suggests music to you through iTunes, they could be suggesting health interventions to you through your Health Record app. Where you wouldn’t be sharing your data with the broader world, you’d just be showing an anonymized set of your data so that a third party can provide an anonymized recommendation" to a patient profile, rather than a named individual, he said.

Justin Freid, executive VP and managing director at CMI/Compas, agreed that the first big benefit is for patients to see all their medical information from different doctors and specialists in one place.

“Imagine every doctor they’ve seen and every pill they’ve ever taken. Which should, in the end, lead to better treatment—more accurate prescriptions and treatments—for everyone,” he said.

For pharma, while the opportunity is still down the road, Apple's huge customer base and trusted brand could help open the door to more beyond-the-pill, direct interactions with patients.

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“Let’s say there is some kind of ability for pharma to partner with Apple to know, for instance, how frequently people are going to see their doctor for diabetes check-ins. Pharma could use that data to customize user experiences with apps or treatment engagements,” Freid said.

For now, Sulkes advised pharma companies to double down on their EHR strategies. Drugmakers should make sure they understand the platform and where they can add the most value before Apple personal health records take off. He also suggested that pharma marketers reach out to Apple directly to ask how the company feels about marketing to patients through Health Records.

Apple announced the beta test of Health Records last month. The test will pool a patient's medical records in one place through its Health app, tapping providers at 12 leading hospitals and clinics including Cedars-Sinai, Johns Hopkins and Penn Medicine, with plans to add more in the coming months.