Google, WHO partner on software developer kit

Google this week unveiled a project in partnership with the World Health Organization designed to provide technology support to software developers in low- and middle-income countries looking to create digital health apps.

The tech giant is working on an open-source software developer kit that could be used to create mobile apps that help frontline healthcare workers treat patients when internet connectivity is unstable and to share health data more easily, according to a blog post a Google Health product manager and Android software engineer published Wednesday.

The kit is designed to help developers create apps on the Android mobile operating system that offer healthcare workers decision-support tools and bring patient data—which is often spread across multiple different applications—together.

The software developer kit includes application components like data access and search tools, so that developers can build digital health apps more easily. Android apps built using the kit will be able to run offline by storing and processing data locally in cases where connectivity is unreliable.

“The [software developer kit] reduces the time and effort it takes to build [Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources]-based, interoperable digital health applications on Android, maximizing the efforts of local developers and unlocking their potential to meet their community’s needs,” the blog post reads.

Google plans to release the software developer kit in the coming months.

Already, the WHO is using the software developer kit to develop a clinical decision-support app that healthcare workers would use in emergency settings. The app, dubbed EmCare, suggests evidence-based recommendations to healthcare workers treating patients based on existing guidelines from the WHO.

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Clinical decision-support is a sizeable area of interest in healthcare, with companies selling such tools raising $1.5 billion in venture capital funding in the first nine months of 2021, according to Modern Healthcare’s Digital Health Business & Technology.

Google’s software developer kit will use the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources—better known as FHIR—format, a popular data-sharing standard. FHIR, which is used by developers internationally, is the data-sharing format mandated in companion rules that the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued last year.

Standardizing data against FHIR makes information easier to share across applications, as long as all applications are using FHIR.

Patient data stored on apps built using the software developer kit are encrypted and will not be shared with Google, according to the blog post.

Google in recent months has sought to prove it’s not abandoning healthcare as it unwinds its Google Health division and distributes projects across the company. Last week Google announced doctors who have claimed a Google Business profile will be able to specify what health insurance they accept and what languages are spoken at their offices, so that people can see that information when searching for a doctor on Google.

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