The Push to Make Interoperability a Reality Takes Another Step

a computer graphic representing interoperability with linked medical iconography

Healthcare interoperability took a step forward recently when a half-dozen tech giants pledged to remove barriers and to move the advancement of health data standards.

Microsoft, Amazon, Google, IBM, Salesforce and Oracle agreed to aid the push toward interoperability by advancing standards such as HL7 (Health Level Seven International), FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources), and the Argonaut Project. The companies also agreed to remove any barriers to interoperability, especially those blocking the use of cloud and artificial intelligence technologies.

The announcement was made Aug. 13 during the Blue Button 2.0 Developer Conference in Washington, D.C.

As reported on the website Healthcare Informatics, the commitment reads, in part:

“Healthcare data interoperability must account for the needs of all global stakeholders, empowering patients, healthcare providers, payers, app developers, device and pharmaceutical manufacturers, employers, researchers, citizen scientists, and many others who will develop, test, refine, and scale the deployment of new tools and services.

“We understand that achieving frictionless health data exchange is an ongoing process, and we commit to actively engaging among open source and open standards communities for the development of healthcare standards, and conformity assessment to foster agility to account for the accelerated pace of innovation.”

While the agreement sounds promising, its actual impact remains to be seen. The pledge’s significance is “very much to be determined,” Lucia Savage, a former Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) official, told Politico.

With no plan for implementation and without proper enforcement — ONC’s rule on information blocking won’t directly apply to these companies — the agreement may be toothless, Savage said.

Cerner President Zane Burke said in the same article that it might be best if the tech giants involved in the agreement would share their own data with EHR vendors. Still, Burke said, the agreement is “a positive first step by companies that haven’t been associated with this in the past” and signals that commercial entities are considering health data exchange’s technical requirements.

Another major development on the interoperability front took place in July when electronic health record (EHR) vendor alliances CommonWell and Carequality announced plans to create a health information exchange. This exchange would bring together all major vendors including Epic, Cerner and Athenahealth.

Micky Tripathi, who sits on the boards of both CommonWell and the Sequoia Project, which oversees Carequality, told Healthcare IT News that the move would allow 80% of doctors to share patient data among competing EHRs. Tripathi called the event “a signature moment in nationwide interoperability.”

CommonWell and Carequality hope to have the exchange operating soon, although Tripathi and others have predicted technical problems could slow down the exchange’s progress.

But that dose of realism doesn’t dilute their enthusiasm.

“This will both free up a lot of resources and also create opportunities to really use the data in a meaningful way,” Niam Yaraghi, fellow at The Brookings Institute, told Healthcare IT News. “It is exciting.”

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