Both the Duke and UNC health systems have joined a program that allows patients to use Apple devices to access and add to the data that shapes the decisions they and their doctors make about their treatment.
The systems participated in the beta testing of the app that began in January, and remain on board now that Apple's rolled out the latest iteration of the basic operating software on its phones and tablets.
"It's awesome that both hospitals are participating because so many patients in the Triangle move between the systems," said Katie McMillan, associate director of Duke University's and Duke University Health System's mobile app gateway. "They [now] have the ability to combine their records into just one app on their phone."
And because close to 40 hospitals from around the country also participate in the Apple program, quite a few newcomers to the region will also be able to pull up and share with their new doctors their health history.
"It's just a great tool for patients," McMillan said.
Duke and the UNC Health System rely on the same back-end record-keeping software, from the Wisconsin-based Epic Systems, and already gave their patients online access to their records via Epic's MyChart interface, be it via a web page or Epic's own app.
For Android users, MyChart remains the go-to portal, said Tracy Parham, chief information office for UNC Health. She added that UNC signed with Apple because the California firm holds a large share of the U.S. smartphone market, nearly a third by some reckonings.
"You start somewhere so you can make progress," Parham said, adding that health providers "can't leave out" Android users and that UNC encourages all its patients to activate their MyChart access.
The federal government's encouraged the expansion of online access to health records, so software companies in recent years have honed the behind-the-scenes programming interfaces that let patients interact with hospital and health-system databases, McMillan said.
The Apple program, embedded in the Health app and iOS 11.3, allows patients to see what is in their record about allergies, medical conditions, vital signs, immunizations, lab results, medications and medical procedures.
That appears on their phone or tablet alongside any data the patients gather on their own about things like their exercise regimen, eating and sleep habits, weight or blood glucose.
"This is really going to be a way to put patient health information into their hands and really use it," Parham said. "They're going to be in a position to transform their health care."
For those worried about security, both Duke and UNC lean on Apple's promises that the data remains fully encrypted in transit and on the device, accessible on the latter only through through keyboard, fingerprint or facial-recognition log-ins. It's up to patients to decide whether to synch their data with Apple's iCloud service; if they do, it'll likewise remain encrypted.
"There are no concerns from our IT perspective about security," Parham said.
McMillan added that patients "can always choose to remove" the connection if they don't want to use it, and once they do their care records will no longer be associated with the device.