Apple’s new Health app heats up the digital health market

What does this mean for Australian developers, providers and consumers?

Health and IT news sites have speculated for months that global powerhouses Apple, Microsoft and Google will enter the health records market. For Apple, at least, this has now been confirmed by the updated Health app in iOS 11.3 beta, which includes a health records feature. A number of prominent US medical institutions, including Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, have pledged their support, with more undoubtedly to follow, using information exchanges based on the HL7™ FHIR® standard. Time will tell whether Google and Microsoft will also be joining this market.

This development raises a number of questions about the likely impacts on the Australian market. First of all, it might be thought that this announcement – and others like it – interferes with the Australian Digital Health Agency’s mission. Quite the opposite, in fact – it furthers the Agency's mission to improve digital health in Australia. We look forward to the development of a vibrant digital health marketplace with companies of all sizes innovating to provide better digital health solutions to all Australians.

A related concern is that the Health app would compete directly with the My Health Record. It doesn't, since applications like these need to be able to access data from somewhere. The My Health Record is part of the Australian digital health infrastructure that Apple’s Health app and others draw upon and interact with. The app provides a way to facilitate information sharing between patients and healthcare providers.

More broadly, it might be asked what this development means for Australian digital health developers. The presence of Apple and the likely entry of other major international concerns in this market means that it is more important than ever that the national efforts for a more interoperable healthcare system are co-ordinated and aligned – not just nationally, but with an international perspective. See our recent article about global interoperability for an overview.

Last of all, we should consider how Australian healthcare providers will be affected. Developments like these are likely to drive consumer choice to some extent. In other words, some consumers are likely to favour healthcare providers who directly support the healthcare applications they use. We recommend that the healthcare industry starts considering the impact of these consumer-facing applications and how they might affect consumers’ expectations of healthcare information in the future.