October 11, 2014

How Providers and Payers Can Benefit from Apple’s HealthKit

Apple’s HealthKit is making waves in the healthcare industry, and with good reason. Savvy healthcare providers and organizations see the app’s potential to improve treatment outcomes — and reimbursements.

As the United States’ healthcare system moves from a fee-for-service payment model to one determined by performance, any device or application that can improve treatment outcomes has the potential to positively impact the bottom line. The HealthKit platform is a perfect example of such an application.

HealthKit is Apple’s new iOS platform for aggregating and tracking personal health data — especially data generated by wearable devices or third-party applications such as Nike’s FuelBand, Jawbone’s Up, MyFitnessPal, and many others. Apple Health is the consumer facing app that links these data sources in HealthKit. There are a few compatible apps already available, but consumers shouldn’t expect development to really pick up steam until the release of the Apple Watch, sometime in early 2015.

HealthKit is designed to aid consumers who want a central repository for all the health-related data generated by their devices or apps. However, even though the Health app and HealthKit platform are targeted at consumers, healthcare providers can benefit as well.

Patients that track their health information with wearable devices or apps create huge amounts of data. In the data-driven world of the Hospital Value Based Purchasing Program (HVBP), Meaningful Use Incentive Program (MU), and other similar initiatives, physicians and organizations with access to such patient-generated data will have a competitive advantage. “physicians with access to such data will have a competitive advantage” But as a recent study by TechnologyAdvice revealed, most Americans are relatively apathetic about health tracking and/or wearable devices — only 25 percent of Americans use devices or applications to track their health and fitness information. Under 15 percent of those surveyed indicated that they had plans to start tracking their health or fitness. When considered alone, these statistics aren’t exactly glowing endorsements of health tracking or the Quantified Self movement. However, well over half of participants — 57 percent — indicated they would be more likely to use a tracking device if doing so might lower their insurance premiums. As is the general rule when combating apathy, the proper incentives can make all the difference.

Incentivizing patients is relatively easy — if cost is the biggest roadblock to health and fitness tracking, payer or physician provided trackers would remove this excuse. Of course, payers and physicians will need to see a return on their investment; payers will want to see a decrease in healthcare utilization by their participating policyholders, and providers will want to see improved treatment outcomes so their reimbursements rise under the coming performance-based payment model.

Additionally, payers and providers will want to be assured that exchanging health information in this way does not open them up to fines under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Patients can give their own health information to whomever, but providers and payers will want assurance that HealthKit and other similar systems are fully HIPAA-compliant. At up to $50,000 per violation, physicians and payers are understandably hesitant about sharing health information.

It is likely only a matter of time before wearable fitness trackers and health applications become ubiquitous. According to Alex Moazed, CEO of Applico, a platform development company that counts Philips Healthcare and the Mayo Clinic as clients, HealthKit and similar platforms are “primed to change the way we think about healthcare.” He envisions “care-traffic controllers,” or people who would monitor patients’ health trackers in order to “provide highly individualized and relevant care recommendations in real time.”

Many providers and payers offer patients access to medical advice over the phone, but the RNs and PAs on the line can only give generalized information and advice. If they had access to real-time data from a patient’s health tracker, they could more accurately determine whether or not a patient has an emergent condition and tailor their advice to the specific needs of the patient. Some patients might even pay an additional fee for access to such a service.

HealthKit is just one of many options available to adults who want to track their health and fitness data. It is notable because it’s an Apple product, not because it is particularly innovative or unique. According to one physician, commenting off the record, “the potential is there…but Apple is keeping a very tight leash on what data types are allowed in HealthKit.” The same physician believes asthma, heart, and diabetes patients stand to benefit most at present, but “if the right devices can integrate and upload their data to HealthKit and send them onward to an electronic medical record system,” then the potential for HealthKit and similar platforms is nearly limitless.

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