In a tech world almost owned by Apple, the powerhouse firm recently announced what most have long suspected: It is staking a piece of its future on healthcare, and this move likely will have a ripple on patient health. Apple's newest Health app upgrade marks a major investment for the firm, and vendors in the space are likely taking notice.

But the question is whether iPhone owners will actually use the Health app. The idea is great in theory, but what about in practice?

The Apple announcement in January was framed as "a significant update to the Health app" with iOS 11.3 beta, debuting a feature for customers to allow them to see their medical records on their iPhone.

"The updated Health Records section within the Health app brings together hospitals, clinics and the existing Health app to make it easy for consumers to see their available medical data from multiple providers whenever they choose," Apple announced.

Johns Hopkins Medicine, Cedars-Sinai, Penn Medicine and other participating hospitals and clinics are among the first to make this beta feature available to their patients, so the power of Apple already is taking effect.

"In the past, patients' medical records were held in multiple locations, requiring patients to log into each care provider's website and piece together the information manually," the company's release said. "Apple worked with the healthcare community to take a consumer-friendly approach, creating health records based on FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources), a standard for transferring electronic medical records."

Apple cites convenience, more complete access to medical information from various organizations and notifications when their data is updated as clear benefits of the app.

"Our goal is to help consumers live a better day. We've worked closely with the health community to create an experience everyone has wanted for years — to view medical records easily and securely right on your iPhone," Apple COO Jeff Williams said in a statement. "By empowering customers to see their overall health, we hope to help consumers better understand their health and help them lead healthier lives."

"Streamlining information sharing between patients and their caregivers can go a long way toward making the patient experience a positive one," Stephanie Reel, chief information officer at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in a statement. "This is why we are excited about working with Apple to make accessing secure medical records from an iPhone as simple for a patient as checking email."

The new Health Records section is available to the patients of the following medical institutions as part of the iOS 11.3 beta:

  • Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles, California
  • Penn Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pennsylvania
  • UC San Diego Health, San Diego, California
  • UNC Health Care, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois
  • Dignity Health, Arizona, California and Nevada
  • Ochsner Health System, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana
  • MedStar Health, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia
  • OhioHealth, Columbus, Ohio
  • Cerner Health Clinic, Kansas City, Missouri

As SearchHealthIT points out, the Apple Health app upgrade could be a big step toward the consumerization of healthcare "or the personal health record capabilities Apple has added could end up like many PHR systems of the past: commendable but largely unused ... Apple's stellar reputation for security and privacy also augurs well for protecting health data as it flows to and from healthcare systems via the Apple Health app."

The question really is, though: Does anyone want the Health app? Do consumers want all the work of putting their records together? There's also the price factor. iPhones are popular among doctors and middle-class and affluent healthcare consumers, but the devices are too expensive for many patients.

SearchHealthIT writer Shaun Sutner wonders about the validity of such tech, especially in relation to those currently on the market: "Microsoft's HealthVault, hasn't caught on since it was released in 2007. Same for other PHRs that have been on the market for some time, such as WebMD PHR, Patient Ally and Patient Fusion from web-based ambulatory EHR vendor Practice Fusion."

Usually available on mobile devices, the portals enable patients to view and retrieve updated information about medications, allergies, vital signs, procedures and lab results and make appointments with and ask questions of caregivers.

The Apple Health app release is still in beta and not available to the general public other than patients of the 12 provider systems that worked on the iPhone-based system with Apple. Even so, will patients in these facilities even use it now that it's available?