Global collaboration on digital health efforts now can promote interoperability in the future

In many ways’ tech has made the world smaller and more interconnected. Information that once took days to reach new countries now takes milliseconds. Digital health is also shaking up the way patients receive care globally, and how they expect to receive care. 

“Our consumer expectations, our knowledge that what we are getting as a consumer in healthcare isn’t matching up to what we are getting as a consumer everywhere else in our lives,” Dr. Don Rucker, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, said during a HIMSS20 Digital’s “The Washington Perspective: A Fireside Chat with the ONC National Coordinator”

That consumerization of healthcare is just one of the many forces propelling health innovation all over the world. Health systems have responded with new digital initiatives and departments specifically focused on the digital health. 

Rucker is now working with global thought leaders to help bring digital health to the next level in a cohesive way with the Global Digital Health Partnership, an international effort made up of 30 countries.  

“This is a partnership really of the digital health ministries or health ministries’ digital component in a number of countries and a realization we tend to use a number of the same standards, maybe in some different ways,” he said. 

Collaborating now can help promote interoperability. 

“There is a realization that it makes more sense, just the same way that if everyone drove on one side of the road rather than picking between [the two, it] makes more sense. It would make sense if everyone had one voltage coming out of the wall rather than different currencies in different countries. This is an effort to say, ‘Hey we are pretty early on. Let’s see what we can standardize here, and let’s see what we can share.”

While every system may have its own way of creating a digital system, some of the main goals and obstacles are strikingly similar. 

“I would say having worked in the GDHP for the last few years, the global takeaway is healthcare is complex. Even though the US reimbursement system is … one of a kind, the reality is much of the world on some level is an imitation of the American system, because we’ve invented much if not most of the tech, and many, if not most of the meds, and many, if not most, of the treatment modalities,” Rucker said. “So, a lot of the world is colored by the view of American medicine and that is a big data-intensive thing. So, we are working with these countries to see what we can do to harmonize standards.

While there may be a long way to go in aligning global, and even in some cases state digital efforts, it’s clear that connected health has uprooted the traditional system for good. 

“I think the internet of things is going to mean the way we look at the body is a much more instrumented way. … There are technologies that are early stages that are going to totally change the way of healthcare and allow us to catch things far earlier and make a lot of these behavioral decisions.”

Editor’s note: The headline of the piece misstated that the efforts were to curb interoperability. The article has been corrected to state that the efforts were to promote interoperability. 

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