Google’s Effort To Help Healthcare Organizations Meet Interoperability Standards

Healthcare providers are well aware that the interoperability demands imposed by the 21st Century Cures Act are barreling down the pike rapidly and will soon slam their organizations.

The thing is, with COVID-19 having disrupted and changed everything about healthcare operations for the time being, providers have had little time to tackle even this important issue.

This month, however, Google has decided to get involved in solving these problems in part by launching the Google Cloud Healthcare Interoperability Readiness Program. According to a recent blog item, the program is designed to help healthcare companies understand their current interoperability maturity levels and make a step-by-step plan to support interoperability.

The program’s ultimate goal is to help these organizations prepare for new requirements emerging from ONC and CMS.

As the tech giant notes, Google Cloud has already built an API-based ecosystem designed to make health data sharing more efficient. Through the new Healthcare Interoperability Readiness Program, Google will build on these efforts by helping customers understand the status and location of their data, map out a path to standardizing and integrating this data and make use of it in a secure, reliable and compliant manner.

Tools offered by the program include:

  • HealthAPIx Accelerator, which offers access to best practices, pre-built templates and lessons learned from Google customer and partner implementations, offers a blueprint organizations and developers can use to build FHIR API-based digital experiences
  • Apigee API Management, which offers the underpinning as it enables the security and governance layer to deliver, manage, secure and scale APIs. It will also consume and publish FHIR-ready APIs, build robust API analytics and speed up the rollout of digital solutions.
  • Google Cloud Healthcare API, which offers secure methods for ingesting, transforming, harmonizing, and storing data in the latest FHIR formats, as well as HL7v2 and DICOM.
  • An interoperability toolkit, which includes solution architectures, implementation guides, sandboxes and other resources to speed up interoperability adoption and improve compliance standards such as FHIR R4.

Now, this is all very nice and may indeed be as powerful a set of tools as it appears to be. My question, however, is whether it’s remotely practical to envision providers sinking a lot of time into these efforts over the short term regardless of regulatory demands for improved interoperability.

From what I can tell, it will be a good 12 months or so before the healthcare industry can even raise its head and see a future where COVID-19 is largely a bad memory. During this period, while at least some provider organizations will find the bandwidth to keep looking at these issues, it seems unlikely that they’ll make real progress over the short term. In fact, it’s possible that it’s better that they step back and look at the impact the pandemic has had on their operations and data infrastructure. I’m betting that there are new lessons waiting to be learned when the industry ultimately comes out of full pandemic mode.

Given these circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that ONC delayed standard API requirements for EHRs from May 2022 to the end of 2022.  We’re going to see interoperability deadlines continue to get moved over the next several months unless something drastic happens to calm the pandemic almost overnight.