Apple on FHIR with third-party apps

One of the biggest stories this week for the technology community was Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Jose, where in addition to previewing its new macOS and iOS, Apple announced that it was opening up its Health Records APIs to third-party developers.

Apple first launched this app back in January, revealing it has been working with EMR vendors on the Argonaut Project to use the FHIR standard to develop APIs that can allow different systems to talk to each other. This involved a restricted list of vendors and 12 healthcare organisations, which has now increased to over 50, all in the US.

That is still the case but Apple has now announced it is opening its APIs to third-party developers, allowing them to use the technology to develop approved apps for a health app library. First fruit off the tree was the Medisafe app, which has completed the API integration and will now be able to link to a patient's healthcare provider's system to download new data or records as they become available.

This will be done automatically and means patients won't have to key in the information themselves. It will also keep the data as up to date as possible. In addition to FHIR, the Health Records app is using the OAuth2 protocol, which authorises apps to access data on another server.

We liked this story from US publication MobiHealthNews, which talks to Medisafe's founder and asks why he thinks the APIs will be of benefit. Basically, it will overcome the problem of having to approach each healthcare organisation and ask for permission to integrate with their systems. That will all be done by Apple now.

We wrote about Health Records when it was announced back in January and polled readers on whether Apple was onto a winner with Health Records. You thought so – 63 per cent said yes – and we think so too. While the concentration in the US is on hospital EMRs, we think the real scope in the local context is apps interfacing with GP and pharmacy systems, and the My Health Record.

It's interesting that as Apple charges ahead with Health Records – and Best Practice gives a sneak peek of its Indigo version, which will include the Best Health app and SMS reminders – a survey released this week found that while patients are keen to see their GPs using more digital tools, what they want more than anything is more information on their condition and how to manage it.

The survey, carried out by software vendor MedicalDirector and appointment booking service HotDoc, found that consumers were certainly keen on electronic communication with their general practice in the form of the ability to book online, receive an SMS reminder of appointments and receive results and diagnoses by text or email, but what they really wanted was an an old-fashioned printed fact sheet. There are a couple of solutions available now that can email fact sheets to patients – Healthshare, for example, or Healthily's GoShare – but perhaps there's room for an app that can record instructions from the GP so it doesn't go in one ear and out the other.

In other news this week, we heard some stunning news from Shexie, which makes software for the medical specialist market, that some of its customers had actually begun asking about My Health Record availability. Wonders will never cease. We also learned that NSW Health is doing some interesting work, combining its HWAN infrastructure with existing WiFi access points to build what it is calling a statewide wireless core that will initially enable mobility but is being set up for the future of IoT and networked devices.

And then there was eHealth Queensland, which held its annual expo this week where it was announced that extra hospitals had been added to the list to receive the digital hospital version of Cerner first implemented at Princess Alexandra Hospital in late 2015. This will mean 27 hospitals in Queensland will be fully digital in two years' time. Meanwhile, in New Zealand … hmm.

It remains to be seen if Queensland Health wants to open up its EMR to Apple and third-party apps by then. While acute care is the initial target in the US for these interfaces, we think they are far more likely to be useful in primary and ambulatory care, and the same goes here.

That brings us to our poll for the week: Do you think patients would use apps that that link to hospital EMRs?

To vote in our weekly polls, sign up for our weekend edition or leave your comments below.

Our poll last week asked: Has Greg Hunt been an effective health minister? Pretty clear cut, this one: 21 per cent said yes, 79 per cent said no.

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