- LAS VEGAS—Widespread EHR adoption attracted the likes of Google to return to healthcare and help the industry in its adoption of new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
On Monday, Google made clear its intentions to move the healthcare organizations and health IT developers forward in the use of advanced analytical tools and at the same time revealed why the present was an appropriate time for the tech giant to return to healthcare.
Hours following an announcement of its open-source Google Cloud Healthcare API, Technical Advisor and former Executive Chairman of Alphabet Inc. Eric Schmidt took to the main stage to share the vision for support health IT innovation by way of the cloud.
“The conclusion you come to speaking as a computer scientist and not a doctor in the room is that you need a second tier of data,” he said in his keynote to close out Monday at HIMSS. Rather than a replacement to primary data stores such as EHR systems, the healthcare cloud supplement rather than supplant the former as “a second tier that looks a lot like an unstructured database.”
According to Schmidt, that is the path forward for healthcare as evidenced by the IT innovation made possible in other industries as a result of using open data architecture.
As Schmidt went on to explain in a Q&A with HIMSS President & CEO Hal Wolf II immediately following his keynote, EHR adoption over the past handful of years has paved the way toward leveraging new technologies such as machine learning to address any number of use cases that lead to improved patient outcomes and reduced cost and strain on clinicians.
“I want to emphasize that EHRs are incredibly important here. The EHRs broke through trying to get data in one place and they did a great job,” said Schmidt who also noted that EHR use has given structure to clinical workflows across institutions. “The arrival of the EHRs is a major story in the last decade.”
Reliable EHR data architecture, in particular, is critical to the work ahead.
“It gives us the starting point for making that happen,” Schmidt continued. “We are on a path right now to building very powerful tools that require the practitioner to move from their traditional screen to some smartphone or some app.”
Hence Google’s return to healthcare. The shuttering of Google Health in 2011, the tech company’s attempt at making inroads into healthcare, was tied to a lack of digitized health information, reported CNBC’s Christina Farr.
The work ahead as detailed by Schmidt entails a focus on integrating numerous voice technologies integrated into clinical health IT systems such as EHR technology that reduces administrative burdens caused by the need to manual document patient encounters.
“We want everyone practicing to their level of their license,” he remarked, echoing the work that the American Medical Association has championed over the last few years.
And Schmidt noted that that vision is closer at hand than some think. “We’re much closer than you think we are,” he added.
While healthcare organizations and health IT developers both shoulder responsibility for the industry’s slow adoption of cloud and open application programming interfaces (APIs), Schmidt noted that recent advancements in EHR interoperability — namely Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) — will enable the industry to make substantial progress in the coming years.
“This is really hard. It’s really humbling and it’s really complicated. But if we all work together, we can really save lives at a scale that is unimaginable because of the impact of these technologies,” Schmidt maintained.
Fortunately, the digitization of massive amounts of data following increased EHR adoption funded primarily through the EHR Incentive Programs makes the challenge ahead in supporting health IT innovation one of finding and accessing reliable information efficiently, a cornerstone of the FHIR API that comprises a part of Google’s new API.
“This fundamentally a search problem and Google is very good at search problems.”
Google will have to compete with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure to become the preferred cloud service provider in healthcare as well as those health IT companies managed services on behalf of healthcare organizations and health IT developers. That being said, the cloud has never been more poised to become the staging area for connecting innovative uses of data with high-quality patient information.