Penn Medicine, Geisinger patients can take health records with them on their iPhones

New capabilities in Health Records help patients see medical records from multiple providers.

New capabilities in Health Records help patients see medical records from multiple providers. (courtesy of Apple)

Sometimes, you need to see another doctor. Maybe you’re moving, or perhaps you need to see a specialist.

Right now, transferring your medical records involves printing them out, and sometimes that means hundreds of pages, said Jonathan Slotkin, a medical director handling digital patient engagement at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania.

But that could change with Apple’s health records feature, available in the upcoming spring release of the new iOS operating system for iPhones. Some patients can put electronic health records on immunizations, allergies, lab results, and medications on their devices and carry that vital information around with them.

That includes patients of Penn Medicine and Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania.

“Right now, in the beta, I could walk into any provider’s office and, instead of handing them hundreds of pieces of paper, I could show them things on my phone,” Slotkin said.

You can try out an early version of this right now. Apple says more medical facilities will be giving their patients access to this feature in the coming months.

Medical records are organized into a clear, easy to understand timeline view. (courtesy of Apple)

Michael Restuccia, chief information officer at Penn Medicine, said this could streamline doctor visits, because every visit to a new doctor starts with the same questions: What medications are you on? Have you been treated anywhere else? What happened?

“When left to somebody like me, I give a lot of blank stares,” Restuccia said. “I don’t remember what medications I’m on, I don’t remember what my lab results were, and so we take up a large portion of the visit just trying to recreate history.”

Now is the right time for this, Slotkin said, because a lot of people use smartphones, we have a standard for how to transfer electronic medical records, and our phones are more secure.

Back in 2015, the FBI wanted Apple’s help in cracking the encryption protecting a mass shooter’s iPhone. Apple refused.

“That same encryption that makes iPhones famously hard to hack or enter is being applied in the strongest way to your health information while your health records sit in your pocket,” Slotkin said.

Apple is not the only tech company to try offering health records. Google tried something similar called Google Health, but shut it down in 2011. Tech-savvy patients, caregivers and fitness enthusiasts liked it, but the product did not attract enough users.

Mutaz Shegewi, a research director specializing in health care and IT at the research firm IDC, said that whether Google tries again and offers something similar for Android will depend partially on how Apple does with its version.

But, he said, this is part of a larger trend of health care becoming more patient-focused.

“This was traditionally a very paternalistic area. It was, you go to the doctor, the doctor tells you what to do, you go home,” Shegewi said, adding that the health care sector has come to realize that “the key decision maker here is really the patient.”

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