Ten months after announcing plans, and just shy of a year after those plans originally leaked, Apple and the Department of Veterans Affairs have completed the rollout of Apple Health Records to any iOS users among the more than 9 million veterans in the US and surrounding territories.
“We have delivered veterans an innovative new way to easily and securely access their health information,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement released this morning. “Veterans deserve access to their health data at any time and in one place, and with Health Records on the Health app, VA has pushed the Veterans experience forward.”
The rollout includes 1,243 facilities across all 50 states as well as Cuba, Guam, Philippines, Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands. Through the Health Records feature in Apple's Health app, patients at these facilities will have access to a portable aggregated record of their allergies, immunizations, lab results, procedures and other health measures. If they also receive care at another facility that has implemented Apple Health Records, they'll be able to see data from that system in the same app. Data will be encrypted and secured with passwords, TouchID or FaceID.
“We have great admiration for veterans, and we’re proud to bring a solution like Health Records on iPhone to the veteran community,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said back in February when the rollout was originally announced. “It’s truly an honor to contribute to the improved healthcare of America’s heroes.”
WHY IT MATTERS
The VA's EHR modernization effort has been a major story in health IT news for years. Last year the department awarded a contract to Cerner, which is also currenty rolling out with the Department of Defense. Interoperability both within the VA and between VA and DOD are major goals of the project. The VA is projecting a 10-year timeline for the rollout with the first locations going live next year.
"For decades, VA and DoD have been struggling to achieve interoperability and seamlessly share patient records between our health systems — placing an unfair burden on our Veterans and their families,” Wilkie said in a statement in July. “No veteran, family member or caregiver should have to carry boxes of paper, medical and service records around. This data migration is the first step to solving that problem for good.”
It's easy to see how Apple's initiative, which provides veterans direct access to portions of that data, addresses some of the same pain points for veterans and their families.
THE LARGER TREND
According to the VA, the Apple rollout is thanks to another internal effort, the Veterans Health Application Programming Interface (Veterans Health API), first revealed in February, which helps private companies create and deploy digital applications that help veterans access their health records in new ways.
The VA has also been offering patient and caregiver-facing apps since 2013. But 2019 has seen a lot of developments in this area in addition to Apple Health Records.
Earlier this year, the VA rolled out its LaunchPad app. Launchpad is designed as a one-stop shop to help veterans manage care across the VA system; view and share electronic health records; share other health information with care providers; more easily book appointments; and refill prescriptions.
A month prior the VA also announced a partnership with Verizon offering veterans who are Verizon customers unlimited access to department's VA Video Connect telehealth app with no data charges.