Tech Companies Focus on Health Care

By – John D. McKinnon of the Wall Street Journal.
Originally titled “Tech Giants Pledge to Ease Patient, Provider Access to Health Data”. To read the original article CLICK HERE

WASHINGTON—Major tech companies committed Monday to removing technological barriers that have hindered patient and provider access to health-care data online.
At a Trump administration event focused on developing more health-care apps, companies including Inc., Alphabet Inc. unit Google and Microsoft Corp. said they would “share the common quest to unlock the potential in health care data, to deliver better outcomes at lower costs.”

That promise would help accelerate what many regard as a coming data-driven revolution in health care, as patients, providers and researchers gain more access to records. It could help the development of more calibrated and cost-effective treatments.

Improving communications and data exchanges among health information-technology systems and devices could lead to more than $30 billion a year in savings, according to some estimates. The U.S. has recently spent 17.9% of gross domestic product on health care—and that share has been rising.

The Trump administration sees better use of health-care data as a key to unlocking savings and holding down costs while improving outcomes. “We want to lean into technology and use it as a potent force to create more efficiencies in our system,” said Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She described improving interoperability as a centerpiece of that strategy.

Big tech firms also stand to benefit from the new uses of health data.

In the past, even when providers switched from paper records, many types of electronic data—including basic patient information, images and lab results—have remain locked in digital silos that aren’t readily accessible.

“Even though that information is now digitized, it’s held in many different formats and standards, such that the patient can’t control that data, or move it seamlessly from one practice to the next,” said Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group, speaking generally about health data. “It can’t flow fluidly.”

Federal privacy laws and regulations also have been blamed for some of the problems.

As a result, health care has lagged behind many other industries in consolidating and tapping data.

Under pressure to reduce costs and improve outcomes, providers and policy makers are focused on developing interoperable systems that can make better use of available data. Such systems could, for example, be able to tell physicians when a test would be duplicative, or warn patients when they are taking prescription drugs that could have harmful interactions.

The trend is being accelerated by big tech companies that see major opportunities, such as new uses for their cloud and artificial-intelligence capabilities. Apple Inc., for example, has already been active in the area, taking steps to help customers monitor their biometric data as well as other health data.

“As patient expectations for seamless experiences have increased, so has our commitment to eliminating the technological barriers that make it challenging for providers to deliver connected care,” Google said in a blog post Monday.

“This is about cloud infrastructure and platforms, building tools and leveraging” data analytics, Gregory Moore, Google’s vice president of health care, said in an interview.

Signers of Monday’s commitment also include IBM , Oracle Corp. and Inc.

Write to John D. McKinnon at

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