Why tech companies keep hitting the same wall when they try to get into health care

Technology companies like Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft keep making moves in the health sector, which isnt surprising given that it represents a $3.5 trillion opportunity.

But these companies keep hitting the same stumbling block: the inability to share health information across medical systems. Millions of patients are learning that they cant share clinical data from their electronic medical records between doctors, especially among those working at different hospitals. They face a similar challenge getting billing information.

Paul Markovich, chief executive of Blue Shield of California, a health insurance plan with more than 4 million members, said big technology companies are highly motivated to work with the medical industry to solve this problem. Its challenging to build systems using things like artificial intelligence, for instance, if companies cant access the large-scale data they need to build their computer models.

Without interoperability, they cant scale, Markovich said in an interview with CNBC.

Markovich believes interoperability is vital to help solve what he sees as the biggest problem with health care: high prices.

We need to stop pricing it as a luxury good, when health care is a necessity, he said.

Improving access to health data could bring costs down. Studies have found that when consumers cant access their health information, it leads to medical errors as well as duplicate tests and procedures. All of that is expensive for any health insurer.

Markovich said he sees value in Apples efforts with its Health Records application, which people can use to access medical information like labs and test results — as long as their care provider participates.

But he said that it could be a 10-year project for Apple to get data from every hospital, clinic and health plan, unless theres a concerted effort across the industry, as well as the federal government, to improve health data sharing on a state and federal level.

Fortunately, thats starting to happen, with recent legislation from the Department of Human Health and Services to promote patient access via a no-cost health data exchange.

Markovich is looking to open up access to claims data, which is essentially a history of things that got billed to the plan. He said he hopes others in the industry will join in these efforts because consumers change their insurance company often enough that they need access to this information across a variety of plans.