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Tech giants sign on to interoperability pledge

par Thomas Dworetzky , Contributing Reporter
In the quest for seamless data flow, interoperability is key – and the tech giants are committing to bringing it to healthcare.

Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce have all signed a letter from the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) saying that they are “jointly committed to removing barriers to the adoption of technologies for healthcare interoperability, particularly those that are enabled through the cloud and AI.”

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Calling it a “common quest,” the goal is to unlock the potential power in healthcare data to improve outcomes and lower costs. As part of the effort, the group called for “a robust industry dialogue about healthcare interoperability.”

Hopes are that today’s announcement will be “a catalyst to creating better health outcomes for patients at a lower cost,” said ITI president and CEO Dean Garfield in a statement, noting that, “as transformative technologies like cloud computing and artificial intelligence continue to advance, it is important that we work toward creating partnerships that embrace open standards and interoperability.”

Google pledged its efforts toward the interoperability of healthcare data “through AI and the Cloud,” Dr. Gregory J. Moore, vice president of Healthcare at Google Cloud, added in the statement.

“We’ve collected and digitized all this data but it's not communicating with another,” Moore told The Hill. “If you go to one provider on one side of town, there is not an easy way in most cases for a provider to access that information.”

IBM, as well, issued its support, stressing that it “believes that patients should have access to their data, and the flexibility to use products and services across different healthcare systems, with confidence that they all are working seamlessly for their care,” according to Mark Dudman, head of Global Product & AI Development at IBM Watson Health.

In addition to establishing the tech firms' commitment, the pledge letter also laid out basic guidelines of the effort, including that:

• The frictionless exchange of healthcare data, with appropriate permissions and controls, will improve care, cut costs and boost satisfaction.
• Data interoperability needs to work for all global stakeholders in order to succeed.
• Open standards, open specifications, and open-source tools are essential, which requires a variety of technical strategies and ongoing collaboration over emerging standards, like HL7 FHIR and the Argonaut Project.
• Achieving frictionless data exchange is an ongoing effort and needs engagement by open-source and standards groups to create standards that are agile and work in today's “accelerated pace of innovation.”

When the letter was announced today at the CMS Blue Button 2.0 Developer Conference in Washington, D.C., Josh Mandel, chief architect, Microsoft Healthcare, said that the company is “taking a collaborative approach to building open tools that will help the healthcare community, including cloud-hosted APIs and services for AI and machine learning,” adding that, “Microsoft understands that true interoperability in healthcare requires end-to-end solutions, rather than independent pieces, which may not work together.”

Today’s announcements “represent a watershed moment toward fostering more innovation in America’s healthcare systems,” White House senior advisor Matt Lira said in a statement to The Hill.

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