HIMSS19: VA teams with Apple to bring Health Records feature to veterans

Health app- iPhone
The collaboration between VA and Apple will expand the tech company's Health Records app to more than 9 million veterans in the system. (Apple)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has teamed up with Apple to make the Health Records on iPhone feature available to over 9 million veterans in the VA system by this summer.

In a Monday morning announcement dovetailing with the opening of the Healthcare Information and Management Sytems Society's (HIMSS) annual conference and exhibition, the VA said veterans will be able to access their personal medical data directly in the Health app on their iPhone, including health data across 1,243 VA facilities. Veterans also will be able to use the Health app to access their health data from hospitals and clinics outside the VA that are participating in the Apple Health Records project. Using the app, veterans will see an aggregated view of their allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals.

All Health Records data is encrypted and protected with the user’s iPhone passcode, Touch ID or Face ID, according to Apple.

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The initiative will be the first record-sharing platform of its kind available to the VA.

Apple was reported to be in talks with the VA about the Health Records integration back in November. At the time, the plans being discussed included Apple providing engineering support to the VA as well, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This new capability has been made possible through the Veterans Health Application Programming Interface (API), which was announced in December. The Veterans Health API allows veterans to access their health records within applications on their mobile devices or in their web browser. 

“We have great admiration for veterans, and we’re proud to bring a solution like Health Records on iPhone to the veteran community,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “It’s truly an honor to contribute to the improved healthcare of America’s heroes.”

“When patients have better access to their health information, they have more productive conversations with their physicians,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s COO. “By bringing Health Records on iPhone to VA patients, we hope veterans will experience improved healthcare that will enhance their lives.”

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 200 healthcare provider organizations have joined the project, according to Apple.

“Our Health API represents the next stage in the evolution of VA’s patient data access capability,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “By building upon the Veterans Health API, we’re raising the bar in collaborating with private sector organizations to create and deploy innovative digital products for Veterans. Veterans should be able to access their health data at any time, and I’m proud of how far we’ve come to accomplishing this.” 

Launched in 2010, VA Blue Button, a feature of My HealtheVet, enabled veterans to download a copy of their VA health records online. After a visit to a VA healthcare facility, a veteran’s Apple device will automatically receive updated health record information within 24 hours from the visit using the built-in app from Apple on their iPhone. 

VA officials plan to partner with other private sector organizations to bring similar capabilities to other mobile platforms. 

RELATED: Apple’s new Health Records feature reduces friction for app developers

Lighthouse, considered the “front door” to VA’s vast data stores, is the department’s API management platform. Since launching Lighthouse in March 2018, VA has delivered a developer portal, a Benefits Intake API, a Facilities API and a Veterans Health API. VA’s Veterans Health API is part of VA’s commitment to health IT modernization, and will contribute to VA’s expansive electronic health record modernization program, VA officials said.

Last week, VA announced another data-driven initiative to share patient mortality data from its electronic health record with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve public health surveillance.

The partnership supports the CDC’s Modernizing Death Reporting project, a project aimed at increasing the speed, quality, and interoperability of mortality data captured and reported. The collection and analysis of mortality data enable the CDC to uncover health disparities, improve outbreak and disaster response efforts and inform policy and funding decisions.

The VA’s collaboration with CDC leverages Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR)-based APIs. Using FHIR-based standards increases the value of the mortality data, as data is provided more quickly, enabling faster analysis and the delivery of more timely healthcare intervention, VA officials said.

Delivering data directly to CDC’s systems in this manner underscores VA’s commitment to a modern interoperability strategy,” Wilkie said.

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