Apple Inc.’s Health app is changing how some telehealth companies are conducting their business of using telecommunication technologies to deliver health care remotely.

The Health app, which comes with iOS 8 and is preloaded on Apple’s iPhone 6, serves as a dashboard for all of a consumer’s health data. The app tracks consumers’ steps and lets them input up to 72 other health metrics to monitor, such as weight, what they ate that day and blood pressure.

It also has a section where consumers can aggregate information for their other health, fitness and nutrition apps. For example, a consumer can tell her meal-tracking app to let her fitness-tracking app know how many calories she consumed that day. Or a consumer can choose to share her health data with her hospital’s app so her doctors can monitor her condition.

Medical group Online Care Group now uses the Apple Health app when it conducts visits with its patients. Doctors use the app to look at the data a patient shared before the scheduled appointment, much like a doctor in an office reads a chart before walking into the room, except this chart has granular historical data, such as what the patient ate at what time, says Dr. Peter Antall, president and medical director at Online Care Group.

“We are very interested in having informed encounters with patients. It is very challenging when practicing telehealth across the country to get the data we need in a visit,” Antall says. “We found Apple Health is a great aggregator.”

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Having aggregated data is beneficial for telehealth’s traditional use—urgent, acute care, such as treating a rash or cold—and can also lead remote health care providers into a new market—long-term chronic care, such as treating sdiabetics—says Dr. Roy Schoenberg, CEO at telehealth technology company American Well.

For patients that have congestive heart failure, for example, keeping track of weight and nutrition is important, Antall says. With the Health app, Antall can see all the information that the patient is recording from his other health and wellness apps, such as his daily activity from his Fitbit wearable device or what he is eating on the Weight Watchers app. Combining current and historical data can help doctors spot trends and understand what is happening with the patient, Antall says. And the historical data is not only numerical. A saved photo of a rash from a previous visit to the doctor can help a practitioner analyze if the rash has progressed or cleared up, he says.

“We are always looking to have a robust visit with our patients and the more that we can be informed, with information at our figure tips, the more that visit can be beneficial,” he says.

Online Care Group provides the doctors for American Well, which licenses its telehealth technology to many online health care companies, such as Anthem Inc.’s LiveHealth Online. 95% of Amwell’s business is carried out under the names of client companies, Schoenberg says.

The Amwell app has 1.6 million users and the number of patients downloading and enrolling in the program grew 400% from 2013 to 2014, Schoenberg says. 12% of patients who have an Apple Health-enabled phone have chosen to share their Apple Health information with doctors, Schoenberg says. Amwell’s Apple vs. Android distribution mimics the market share of those two operating systems, Schoenberg says, although he declined to give specifics. Apple has 42.6% of smartphone market share in the U.S. and Android has 53.1%, according to comScore in March 2015.

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Some health insurance plans cover telecommunication health care, and patients pay their normal co-pays for a video conference. If a health plans don’t cover such remote care, a visit with a doctor from Online Care Group is $49 for patients to chat with the doctor for 10 minutes.

The process of sharing information from Apple Health to Amwell complies with HIPAA privacy regulations, Antall says. When a patient downloads the Amwell app, it asks him if he wants to share data with Apple Health. If the patient says yes, he can then choose each piece of data he wants to share. Once a patient requests an appointment with a doctor in the Amwell app, the app will ask again if the doctor can have access to Apple Health and the patient can then choose which data points to share. The data will then be shared with the doctor when the patient is live for the appointment.

While telehealth is most frequently used for patients who need to make last-minute appointments or can’t easily get to the doctor’s office, delivering health care remotely can now help with chronic care patients, Schoenberg says.

For example, a diabetic who checks his blood sugar levels can sync his glucometer, a medical device that reads the concentration of glucose in a patient’s blood, to the Apple Health app. Pairing the glucometer with the Health app works similar to Bluetooth technology, Schoenberg says. A patient holds his phone next to the glucometer, he opens the Health app, a radio signal recognizes the two devices and prompts the patient in the app to press a button on the glucometer and on the phone at the same time. The two devices are then paired and information can flow automatically from the glucometer to the app. Most new at-home medical devices are now made with this technology, Schoenberg says.

Doctors then can access and monitor how a patient is doing remotely. This is beneficial especially for elderly patients who may be homebound and can’t easily get to a doctor, Schoenberg says.

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“To see the hard data when interacting with a patient really arms you as a physician to better do your job, to make a good educated diagnosis, like you need an adjustment in medicine, a new medication, or a different insulin dose,” Antall says.

Over the years, Amwell invested more than 150 million in developing its telehealth capabilities, but is unsure how much that he can attribute to working with Apple, since the Apple Health initiative reflected a strategic change for the company going from urgent and acute care to long-term chronic care.

Other telehealth companies are also offering at-home medical devices that sync to apps. Medical alert technology company MobileHelp recently launched its MobileVitals telehealth program that allows consumers to sync a pulse oximeter, weight scale, blood pressure cuff and glucometer to its MobileHelp app. Telehealth company Fruit Street Health and digital health vendor Validic also recently partnered so physicians can access data from wearable products, and other lifestyle data, such as sleep, diet and blood pressure, provided from Validic’s remote-monitoring devices, sensors and fitness equipment.
Follow mobile business journalist April Dahlquist, associate editor, mobile, at Mobile Strategies 360, @Mobile360April
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