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Why the Health Care Industry Needs an ‘Internet’ to Communicate

November 3, 2016, 1:25 AM UTC

Steady advances in health care and medical research are undeniable, but much of that potential is lost because sharing and collecting patient data is still not as easy as it should be.

“What if participating in a research study was as easy as connecting through an API,” Claudia Williams, a senior advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said on Wednesday at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego.

Williams, who helps lead the White’s House’s Precision Medicine Initiative, argued that a big priority is to remove the friction that deters people from signing up for health research studies or makes it too difficult for them to participate. Instead, it should be something they can do via their smartphones, for example. She cited Apple’s ResearchKit, a set of mobile software tools that let researchers easily collect data from willing participants. They can build iPhone apps that use both the phone’s sensors and camera, and easy ways for patients to input data to conduct their studies.

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Sean Lane of CrossChx agrees.

“Health care does not have the Internet,” he said. A former National Security Agency employee, Lane’s company is building a unified system to let health care and research organization directly communicate with each other and with patients. Building this type of system will also allow for outside developers to build more related apps and technology.

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He also warned that the health care system is still in the early stages of collecting data from a significant number of patients.

“I don’t wanna hear about ‘big data’ until 100 million patients have access” to a digital health care system, he said about the tech industry’s term for the large amounts of data companies can use to extract patterns and insights.