Towards frictionless health data exchange: Tech heavyweights band together

Some of the biggest names in the tech industry have jointly called for greater interoperability in digital health.

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Back in 2016, a distinguished collection of major digital health vendors and organisations representing 90% of the US digital health record market announced a shared commitment to improving health data interoperability. The companies involved include Epic, Cerner, GE Healthcare, and Kaiser Permanente, to name a few. These companies, the heavyweights of digital health, pledged to improve consumer access to information, adopt common data standards and eliminate information blocking.

But there are heavyweights, and then there are heavyweights...

This month saw a joint announcement from Microsoft, Amazon, Google, IBM, Oracle and Salesforce calling for a global commitment to interoperability in healthcare. This new announcement, though light on detail, ushers in a new era of tech industry focus on digital health. The signatories call for a “robust industry dialogue about healthcare interoperability needs” with a goal of achieving “frictionless health data exchange” via open standards and specifications, as well as open source tools.

Collectively, these announcements demonstrate that there is now a widespread appetite for collaboration in digital health, with the goal of realising a collective benefit for the sector. Direct competitors in this sector have come to understand that the benefits of co-operation can only be realised through collaborative approaches, and that these benefits significantly outweigh the value of proprietary approaches.

The potential impact of this shift in the market should not be underestimated. As recently as 2015 – just a year before the Las Vegas announcement -- the US Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology noted:

“Current economic and market conditions create business incentives for some persons and entities to exercise control over electronic health information in ways that unreasonably limit its availability and use.”

This shift amounts to a recognition that there is a ceiling to what can be achieved in the absence of connected electronic records.

Drawing out the implications

So what does this mean for digital health in general, and the Australian market in particular?

This announcement signals that the market is moving in the right direction – towards integration, away from fragmentation. This movement will make it possible to progress health interoperability in a consistent fashion, and also opens the doors for broader collaboration and collective innovation. Moreover, we’ve already noted how far the industry has come since 2015, and it seems plausible to think that progress in digital health will continue to accelerate now that some of the biggest names in the tech industry recognise the value in working together.

Connected, integrated records across a continuum of healthcare providers will enable innovation and improvements that are simply not possible or practical in siloed or non-electronic systems. This new commitment to digital health collaboration is reflective of a desire to build better value propositions for clinicians and consumers. This commitment will surely bear fruit for providers and consumers alike, but development, testing and certification cycles all take time, especially in health.

The Australian market can expect to benefit too. We can reasonably expect that many of the innovative products and services developed overseas will be suitable for Australian use after localisation, improving healthcare delivery in myriad ways. Moreover, the development roadmaps and new architectural components that emerge will provide Australian vendors with opportunities to develop products that have the potential to tap into global markets.