Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM renew pledge to support health data interoperability

Last August, six of the world's largest technology giants publicly committed to supporting interoperability in healthcare and to take steps to advance data-sharing standards.

A year later, the cloud technology leaders say they have made notable progress toward reducing barriers to interoperability including the release of open-source software and the development of new standards.

The six companies and competitors—Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce—announced a renewed commitment to interoperability at the CMS Blue Button 2.0 Developer Conference on Tuesday afternoon.

The companies also are throwing their sizable weight behind recent interoperability proposed rules from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The CMS and ONC's proposed rules focus on the use of HL7's Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) as an open standard for electronically exchanging healthcare information. 

"As a technology community, we believe that a forward-thinking API strategy as outlined in the proposed rules will advance the ability for all organizations to build and deploy novel applications to the benefit of patients, care providers, and administrators alike," the companies wrote in a shared pledge.

RELATED: Amazon, Google, Microsoft and IBM pledge support for healthcare interoperability

"We see open standards interoperability tools, like FHIR, as building blocks that can improve the 21st-century patient experience. We hope to see FHIR spark innovation in the healthcare space to reduce costs, increase access, and improve health outcomes,” Taha Kass-Hout, M.D., director of healthcare and chief medical officer at Amazon Web Services Public Sector, said in a statement.

The companies also highlighted progress made to advance interoperability in the past year including open-source software releases, development of new standards and implementation guides, and deployment of services that support proposed federal interoperability mandates.

The tech giants acknowledged that they collectively operate some of the largest technical infrastructures across the globe. 

"Through that experience, we recognize the scale and complexity of the task at hand. We believe that the techniques required to meet the objectives of ONC and CMS are available today and can be delivered cost-effectively with well-engineered systems," the companies said.

RELATED: HIMSS19: ONC, CMS officials outline the framework for interoperability, the use of APIs, FHIR

"In my opinion, improved interoperability will fundamentally revolutionize healthcare by improving population-level care, coordination, delivery and management. And in order to achieve this goal, we need public-private partnerships that simplify sharing and re-align incentives across stakeholders," Anil Jain, vice president and chief health informatics officer at IBM Watson Health, said in a statement.

Support from the ONC and CMS in 2019 to adopt FHIR application programming interfaces (APIs) as a foundation for clinical data interoperability will have a profound and positive effect on the industry, wrote Josh Mandel, Microsoft Healthcare chief architect and Heather Jordan Cartwright, general manager, Microsoft Healthcare, in a blog post.

"Looking forward, the application of FHIR to healthcare financial data including claims, explanation of benefit, insurance coverage, and network participation will continue to accelerate interoperability at scale and open new pathways for machine learning," Mandel and Cartwright wrote.

Healthcare organizations are leveraging FHIR to better coordinate care, to develop innovative global health tracking systems for super bacteria and to proactively prevent the need for patients undergoing chemotherapy to be admitted to the emergency room, Mandel said.

As proof of the potential for open APIs and cloud technology in healthcare, health IT company Cerner also announced Tuesday a new strategic collaboration with Amazon Web Services to modernize its platform. Cerner named Amazon Web Services its preferred cloud provider with plans to advance its analytics and machine learning services to help drive its clinical and business insights.

When announcing the renewed interoperability pledge, the six companies touted how their products’ uptake of universal data standards are helping doctors and patients access and make better use of data.

The companies outlined the development of several open-source tools including Google’s FHIR protocol buffers and Apigee Health APIxMicrosoft’s FHIR Server for AzureCerner's FHIR integration for Apache Spark and a serverless reference architecture for FHIR APIs on Amazon Web Services. Salesforce/Mulesoft also developed the Catalyst Accelerator for Healthcare templates, and IBM launched its Apache Spark service.