mHealth Summit 2014: HealthKit, EHR pilot programs show great promise, execs say

The quest to seamlessly gather personal health data and move it into electronic health records may be coming to an end thanks to Apple's HealthKit, according to two experts at the mHealth Summit.

Richard Milani, chief clinical transformation officer at New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System, and Ricky Bloomfield, director of mobile technology and strategy at Duke Medicine in North Carolina, answered questions about their hospitals' pilot programs integrating Apple's HealthKit with Epic EHR platforms during an open mic session Tuesday afternoon. 

After years of struggling to implement the EHR system and the burden it put on providers, Bloomfield said "this was finally something we could give them that would live up to the promise of what EHRs can provide, and what having access to this kind of data can provide."

To integrate EHRs with HealthKit, the hospitals' use Epic's patient portal, MyChart, Bloomfield said.

"After enabling HealthKit on the EHR side, it makes the option available within MyChart," he said. Patients have the option to use the service, he added.

Currently, the information only flows one way: From HealthKit, through MyChart and into the EHR, he said. Data cannot flow in the opposite direction, from the EHR to HealthKit, mainly due to privacy and security concerns.

The amount of data that patients can generate and have go into their records is still at a small level, Milani said. There are about 50 to 60 discreet elements--such as weight, sodium intake or blood pressure--that they can enter.

Bloomfield said that Apple's worldwide head of healthcare told him the list will grow. The company's intent at first is to account for the devices available in the market, such as glucose monitors, inhalers and blood pressure cuffs. As use of new devices grows, Apple wants to support it, he said.

The executives said they want to find ways to show the value of the collaboration, both for improved patient care and cost savings.

Milani said Ochsner recently presented some of its findings to the American Heart Association about how HealthKit tracks data from heart failure patients. The program resulted in a 44 percent drop in readmissions and a higher level of patient activation once they enrolled in the program.

Bloomfield and Milani also both pointed to the ease of use and standardization of HealthKit as reasons for its integration over other contenders like Google Fit.

As for any perils of using the system, both said patients know the details when they decide to share their data.

"Patients are not going into this blind. They understand all the connections here. We explain to them how the data is going to flow … and they are very excited about it, and we've seen an overwhelming response," he said.

Bloomfield added that there is always going to be a lack of transparency and problems that occur--such as the glucose monitoring snafu Apple faced soon after HealthKit's launch--but said the tech giant is committed to quickly fixing problems.

That's also why Duke is rolling out its pilot slowly to ensure everything is in working order before making it available throughout the entire system, he said.