Google on Monday opened up its Healthcare API to the industry at large in an attempt to making it easier for health systems and other providers to share data and coordinate their coronavirus response efforts.
The move comes as the tech behemoth faces an HHS Office of Civil Rights probe after using the personal health information of millions of Americans provided by Ascension to develop new healthcare product lines without patient consent in an initiative dubbed “Project Nightingale.”
Still, health systems may be more willing to adopt the API — academic medical center Mayo Clinic is already a client — as interoperability deadlines loom and they devote internal resources to fighting the pandemic.
The Trump administration published two final rules in early March prohibiting information blocking and pushing industry to adopt standardized APIs, such as Google’s, to streamline data sharing with the goal of giving patients more access to their medical data. APIs are software that allow different computer systems to share data.
The earliest deadline for compliance is in six months. But HHS is weighing adjusting the timeline so the health system can flow all its resources into fighting the pandemic, though health IT experts are urging industry to ramp up their work toward interoperability instead of slowing it down due to the importance of accurate, timely data amid COVID-19.
Google rival Microsoft has a similar FHIR-based API for its healthcare clients. Google is the third-largest cloud provider, after Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
Google, for its part, is facing the HHS OCR investigation after a whistleblower released information that the company was using the personal data of millions of Americans provided by Ascension, the second-largest health system in the country, to develop new product lines. The practice is legal under HIPAA but was done without patient knowledge, kickstarting a nationwide conversation about the role and responsibility of tech behemoths in the healthcare industry.
“As the industry is pushed to its limits in light of COVID-19, the need for increased data interoperability is more important than ever,” Joe Corkery, director of product for healthcare and life sciences at Google Cloud, and Aashima Gupta, director of healthcare solutions for Google Cloud, wrote in a blog post.
Google has taken a number of steps to combat the pandemic, including a repository of public health datasets providers and academics can use to study COVID-19. The tech company, along with fellow Silicon Valley giant Apple, is also creating a platform for contact tracing to identify Americans infected by the virus and inform those that have been in proximity.
Various government agencies have also made interoperability plays over the past weeks to try and ameliorate the problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to release a FHIR-based app to help providers with COVID-19 electronic clinical reporting in May and is working with EHR vendors on electronic clinical reporting adoption. Similarly, The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the U.S. Department of Defense launched their own health information exchange on Saturday, allowing them to securely share records with their community and health system partners.