Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and HIPAA for FREE!!

Providers Tell KLAS That Existing EMRs Can’t Handle Genomic Medicine

Posted on November 26, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Providers are still in the early stages of applying genomics to patient care. However, at least among providers that can afford the investment, clinical genomics programs are beginning to become far more common, and as a result, we’re beginning to get a sense of what’s involved.

Apparently, one of those things might be creating a new IT infrastructure which bypasses the provider’s existing EMR to support genomics data management.

KLAS recently spoke with a number of providers about the vendors and technologies they were using to implement precision medicine. Along the way, they were able to gather some information on the best practices of the providers which can be used to roll out their own programs.

In its report, “Precision Medicine Provider Validations 2018,”  KLAS researchers assert that while precision medicine tools have become increasingly common in oncology settings, they can be useful in many other settings.

Which vendors they should consider depends on what their organization’s precision medicine objectives are, according to one VP interviewed by the research firm. “Organizations need to consider whether they want to target a specific area or expand the solutions holistically,” the VP said. “They [also] need to consider whether they will have transactional relationships with vendors or strategic partnerships.”

Another provider executive suggests that investing in specialty technology might be a good idea. “Precision medicine should really exist outside of EMRs,” one provider president/CEO told KLAS. “We should just use software that comes organically with precision medicine and then integrated with an EMR later.”

At the same time, however, don’t expect any vendor to offer you everything you need for precision medicine, a CMO advised. “We can’t build a one-size-fits-all solution because it becomes reduced to meaninglessness,” the CMO told KLAS. “A hospital CEO thinks about different things than an oncologist.”

Be prepared for a complicated data sharing and standardization process. “We are trying to standardize the genomics data on many different people in our organization so that we can speak a common language and archive data in a common system,” another CMO noted.

At the same time, though, make sure you gather plenty of clinical data with an eye to the future, suggests one clinical researcher. “There are always new drugs and new targets, and if we can’t test patients for them now, we won’t catch things later,” the researcher said.

Finally, and this will be a big surprise, brace yourself for massive data storage demands. “Every year, I have to go back to our IT group and tell them that I need another 400 terabytes,” one LIS manager told the research firm.” When we are starting to deal with 400 terabytes here and 400 terabytes there, we’re looking at potentially petabytes of storage after a very short period of time.”

If you’re like me, the suggestion that providers need to build a separate infrastructure outside the EMR to create precision medicine program is pretty surprising, but it seems to be the consensus that this is the case. Almost three-quarters of providers interviewed by KLAS said they don’t believe that their EMR will have a primary role in the future of precision medicine, with many suggesting that the EMR vendor won’t be viable going forward as a result.

I doubt that this will be an issue in the near term, as the barriers to creating a genomics program are high, especially the capital requirements. However, if I were Epic or Cerner, I’d take this warning seriously. While I doubt that every provider will manage their own genomics program directly, precision medicine will be part of all care at some point and is already having an influence on how a growing number of conditions are treated.

Patient Billing And Collections Process Needs A Tune-Up

Posted on October 1, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A new study from a patient payments vendor suggests that many healthcare organizations haven’t optimized their patient billing and collections process, a vulnerability which has persisted despite their efforts to crack the problem.

The survey found that while the entire billing collections process was flawed, respondents said that collecting patient payments was the toughest problem, followed by the need to deploy better tools and technologies.

Another issue was the nature of their collections efforts. Sixty percent of responding organizations use collections agencies, an approach which can establish an adversarial relationship between patient and provider and perhaps drive consumers elsewhere.

Yet another concern was long delays in issuing bills to patients. The survey found that 65% of organizations average more than 60 days to collect patient payments, and 40% waited on payments for more than 90 days.

These results align other studies that look at patient payments, all of which echo the notion that the patient collection process is far from what it should be.

For example, a study by payment services vendor InstaMed found that more than 90% of consumers would like to know what the payment responsibility is prior to a provider visit. Worse, very few consumers even know what the deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximums are, making it more likely that the will be hit with a bill they can’t afford.

As with the Cedar study, InstaMed’s research found that providers are waiting a long time to collect patient payments, three-quarters of organizations waiting a month to close out patient balances.

Not only that, investments in revenue cycle management technology aren’t necessarily enough to kickstart patient payment volumes. A survey done last year by the Healthcare Financial Management Association and vendor Navigant found that while three-quarters of hospitals said that their RCM technology budget was increasing, they weren’t necessarily getting the ROI they’d hoped to see.

According to the survey, 77% of hospitals less than 100 beds and 78% of hospitals with 100 to 500 beds planned to increase their RCM spending. Their areas of investment included business intelligence analytics, EHR-enabled workflow or reporting, revenue integrity, coding and physician/clinician documentation options.

Still, process improvements seem to have had a bigger payoff. These hospitals are placing a lot of faith in revenue integrity programs, with 22% saying that revenue integrity was a top RCM focus area for this year. Those who would already put such a program in place said that it offered significant benefits, including increased net collections (68%), greater charge capture (61%) and reduced compliance risks (61%).

As I see it, the key takeaways here are that making sure patients know what to expect financially and putting programs in place to improve internal processes can have a big impact on patient payments. Still, with consumers financing a lot of their care these days, getting their dollars in the door should continue to be an issue. After all, you can’t get blood from a stone.

Does NLP Deserve To Be The New Hotness In Healthcare?

Posted on August 30, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot more talk about the benefits of using natural language processing technology in healthcare. In fact, when I Googled the topic, I turned up a number of articles on the subject published over the last several weeks. Clearly, something is afoot here.

What’s driving the happy talk? One case in point is a new report from health IT industry analyst firm Chilmark Research laying out 12 possible use cases for NLP in healthcare.

According to Chilmark, some of the most compelling options include speech recognition, clinical documentation improvement, data mining research, computer-assisted coding and automated registry reporting. Its researchers also seem to be fans of clinical trial matching, prior authorization, clinical decision support and risk adjustment and hierarchical condition categories, approaches it labels “emerging.”

From what I can see, the highest profile application of NLP in healthcare is using it to dig through unstructured data and text. For example, a recent article describes how Intermountain Healthcare has begun identifying heart failure patients by reading data from 25 different free text documents stored in the EHR. Clearly, exercises like these can have an immediate impact on patient health.

However, stories like the above are actually pretty unusual. Yes, healthcare organizations have been working to use NLP to mine text for some time, and it seems like a very logical way to filter out critical information. But is there a reason that NLP use even for this purpose isn’t as widespread as one might think? According to one critic, the answer is yes.

In a recent piece, Dale Sanders, president of technology at HealthCatalyst, goes after the use of comparative data, predictive analytics and NLP in healthcare, arguing that their benefits to healthcare organizations have been oversold.

Sanders, who says he came to healthcare with a deep understanding of NLP and predictive analytics, contends that NLP has had ”essentially no impact” on healthcare. ”We’ve made incremental progress, but there are fundamental gaps in our industry’s data ecosystem– missing pieces of the data puzzle– that inherently limit what we can achieve with NLP,” Sanders argues.

He doesn’t seem to see this changing in the near future either. Given how much money has already been sunk in the existing generation of EMRs, vendors have no incentive to improve their capacity for indexing information, Sanders says.

“In today’s EMRs, we have little more than expensive word processors,” he writes. “I keep hoping that the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of the world will quietly build a new generation EMR.” He’s not the only one, though that’s a topic for another article.

I wish I could say that I side with researchers like Chilmark that see a bright near-term future for NLP in healthcare. After all, part of why I love doing what I do is exploring and getting excited about emerging technologies with high potential for improving healthcare, and I’d be happy to wave the NLP flag too.

Unfortunately, my guess is that Sanders is right about the obstacles that stand in the way of widespread NLP use in our industry. Until we have a more robust way of categorizing healthcare data and text, searching through it for value can only go so far. In other words, it may be a little too soon to pitch NLP’s benefits to providers.

Report Says EHR Usability Tests Should Focus On Common Safety Threats

Posted on August 29, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

The American Medical Association and health system operator MedStar Health have published a report laying out a set of proposals designed to improve EHR safety. The report, which is also backed by The Pew Charitable Trusts, looks at ways that use of EHR usability can fail to prevent or even lead to patient harm.

As readers will know, to meet certification criteria EHRs currently need to conform with EHR usability requirements established in 2015. Developers need to document how they meet clinician needs and conduct formal usability testing addressing clinicians’ efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction in using the system.

Unfortunately, the current generation of certification standards don’t focus specifically on high-prevalence safety hazards, which may mean that the process doesn’t address how usable some important EHR features are, the report says. Plus, even the earlier versions didn’t do much in regards to usability.

Over time, of course, both EHR developers and providers have begun to take these issues more seriously, and as the paper points out, are moving beyond the minimum required to meet certification standards.

For example, developers have agreed to review safety incidents with patient safety officers and product users, along with sharing such information across healthcare facilities. Also, providers have taken their own steps in this direction, such as protecting EHR safety surveys or establishing safety teams tasked with identifying EHR-related problems. As we all know, however, there’s a lot more to be done.

To make more progress, the groups suggest, EHR developers need to design more rigorous, safety-focused test cases. While they already need to run such real-world-oriented test cases, which are required for certification, but these studies might not be looking for the right things, the report says.

To be truly useful, these test cases should represent the expected uses of the technology; should represent a clinically-oriented goal with clear measures of success and failure; test known areas of risk and efficiency; and address a defined audience.

The paper also includes a list of criteria developers and providers can use to boost EHR usability and safety across the system’s entire lifecycle. For providers, this includes establishing a culture of safety which will support EHR-based safety efforts; seeing that user needs and product capabilities are aligned; customizing and configuring the system to meet those needs; implementing and maintaining the EHR carefully; and training clinicians to use the product safely and effectively.

Not surprisingly, research on these topics is ongoing, but some providers are more engaged than others. I was interested to see that MedStar Health’s National Center for Human Factors  in Healthcare continues to work with the AMA on these issues. For example, about two years ago the partners released a joint framework designed to rank EHR usability. (The partners also use the framework to rank the usability of several widely-implemented systems, including that Allscripts and McKesson were doing the best job at the time. That was fun.)

I hope to see more work on the links between EHR usability and safety in the future, as well, of course, as feedback on how to address both. We simply don’t spend enough time on this subject.

Healthcare CIOs Focused On Patient Experience And Innovation

Posted on August 2, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Not long ago, 22 healthcare CIOs had a sit-down to discuss their CEOs’ top IT-related priorities. At the meeting, which took place during the 2018 Scottsdale Institute Annual Conference, the participants found that they were largely on the same page, according to researchers that followed the conversation.

Impact Advisors, which co-sponsored the research, found that improving patient experiences was priority number one. More than 80% of CIOs said patient engagement and better patient experiences were critical, and that deploying digital health strategies could get the job done.

The technologies they cited included patient-facing options like wearables, mobile apps and self-service tools. They also said they were looking at a number of provider-facing solutions which could streamline transitions of care and improve patient flow, including care coordination apps and tools and next-generation decision support technologies such as predictive analytics.

Another issue near the top of the list was controlling IT costs and/or increasing IT value, which was cited by more than 60% of CIOs at the meeting. They noted that in the past, their organizations had invested large amounts of money to purchase, implement and upgrade enterprise EHRs, in an effort to capture Meaningful Use incentive payments, but that things were different now.

Specifically, as their organizations are still recovering from such investments, CIOs said they now need to stretch their IT budgets, They also said that they were being asked to prove that their organization’s existing infrastructure investments, especially their enterprise EHR, continue to demonstrate value. Many said that they are under pressure to prove that IT spending keeps offering a defined return on investment.

Yet another important item on their to-do list was to foster innovation, which was cited by almost 60% of CIOs present. To address this need, some CIOs are launching pilots focused on machine learning and AI, while others are forming partnerships with large employers and influential tech firms. Others are looking into establishing dedicated innovation centers within their organization. Regardless of their approach, the CIOs said, innovation efforts will only work if innovation efforts are structured and governed in a way that helps them meet their organization’s broad strategic goals.

In addition, almost 60% said that they were expected to support their organization’s growth. The CIOs noted that given the constant changes in the industry, they needed to support initiatives such as expansion of service lines or building out new ones, as well as strategic partnerships and acquisitions.

Last, but by no means least, more than half of the CIOs said cybersecurity was important. On the one hand, the participants at the roundtable said, it’s important to be proactive in defending their organization. At the same time, they emphasized that defending their organization involves having the right policies, processes, governance structure and culture.

Healthcare Leaders See AI Tech In Their Future

Posted on July 30, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

You’ve probably noticed that the movement of healthcare AI from visionary to commonplace has already begun. There are endless examples I could cite to demonstrate this, but here’s a taste:

  • A UK hospital is delegating some tasks usually performed by doctors and nurses to AI technology
  • The AMA is working to set standards for physician use of AI
  • Competition between AI-based disease management players is increasing
  • New AI software can detect signs of diabetic retinopathy without involving a physician

Of course, anytime a technology seems poised to take over the world, there’s a voice in our head saying “Are you sure?” And we all know there are many flashes in the technology pan.

When it comes to AI, however, we may be on the brink of such widespread adoption that no one could argue that it hasn’t arrived. According to a recent Intel survey of U.S. healthcare leaders, AI will be in use across the healthcare spectrum by 2023.

The research, which was conducted in partnership with Convergys Analytics, surveyed 200 US healthcare decision-makers in April 2018 on their attitudes about AI. The survey also asked subjects what barriers still existed to industry-wide AI adoption.

First, a significant number of respondents (54%) said that they expected AI to be in wide use in the industry within the next five years. Also, a substantial minority (37%) said they already used AI, though most reported that such use was limited.

Among those organizations that use AI, clinical use accounted for 77%, followed by operational use (41%) and financial use (26%). Meanwhile, respondents whose organizations hadn’t adopted AI still seem very enthusiastic about its possibilities, with 91% expecting that it will offer predictive analytics tools for early intervention, 88% saying it will improve care and 83% saying it will improve the accuracy of medical diagnoses.

Despite their enthusiasm, however, many of those surveyed were sure they could trust AI just yet. More than one-third of respondents said that patients wouldn’t trust AI enough to play an active role in their care (and they are probably right, at least for now). Meanwhile, 30% assume that clinicians wouldn’t trust AI either, predicting that concerns over fatal errors would kill their interest. Again, that’s probably a good guess.

In addition, there’s the issue of the AI “black box” to bear in mind. Though Intel didn’t go into detail on this, both clinicians and healthcare executives are concerned about the way AI gets its job done. My informal research suggests that until doctors and nurses understand how AI tools have made their decisions — and what data influenced these decisions — it will be hard to get them comfortable with it.

Hospital Recycling Bins May Contain Sensitive PHI

Posted on April 6, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A group of Canadian researchers studying hospitals information security practices found that hospital recycling bins contained a substantial amount of PHI.

The researchers, who summarized their findings in a letter published in JAMA, spent two years collecting materials from the recycling bins at five teaching hospitals in Toronto. The “recycling audit,” which took place November 2014 and May 2016, included­­­­ data for inpatient and outpatient care settings, emergency departments, physician offices and ICUs.

When they did their audit, the researchers found more than 2,600 items which contained personally identifiable information, including 1,885 items related to medical care. The majority of the items containing PHI (65%) had been created by medical groups.

Their audit also found that the most common locations at which they found particularly sensitive patient-identifiable information for physician offices (65%) and inpatient wards (19%).

The most commonly-found items included patient-identifiable information included clinical notes, medical reports (30%), followed by labels and patient identifiers (14%). Other items which contained PHI included diagnostic test results, prescriptions, handwritten notes, requests and communications, and scheduling materials.

According to the researchers, each of the five hospitals they audited had policies in place to protect PHI, along with secure shredding containers for packaging up private information. That being said, they guessed that as the hospitals transitioned to EHRs, they were discarding a high volume of paper records and losing control of how they were handled.

I don’t know what the EHR adoption rate is in Canada, but nearly all U.S. hospitals already have an EHR in place, so on first glance, it might appear that this couldn’t happen here. After all, once a hospital has digitized records, one would think the only way hospitals would expose PHI would be when someone deliberately steals data.

But the truth is, a great deal of hospital business still gets done on paper, and it seems likely that one could find a significant number of documents with PHI on them in U.S. recycling bins. (If someone was willing to do the dirty work, there might be a meaningful amount of PHI found in regular garbage cans as well.)

What I take away from this is that hospitals need to have stiffer policies in place to protect against paper-based security breaches. It may be time for hospital administrators to pay closer attention to this problem.

UPMC Sells Oncology Analytics Firm To Elsevier

Posted on January 22, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Using analytics tools to improve cancer treatment can be very hard. That struggle is exemplified by the problems faced by IBM Watson Health, which dove into the oncology analytics field a few years ago but made virtually no progress in improving cancer treatment.

With any luck, however, Via Oncology will be more successful at moving the needle in cancer care. The company, which offers decision support for cancer treatment and best practices in cancer care management, was just acquired by information analytics firm Elsevier, which plans to leverage the company’s technology to support its healthcare business.

Elsevier’s Clinical Solutions group works to improve patient outcomes, reduce clinical errors and optimize cost and reimbursements for providers. Via Oncology, a former subsidiary of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, develops and implements clinical pathways for cancer care. Via Oncology spent more than 15 years as part of UPMC prior to the acquisition.

Via Oncology’s Via Pathways tool relies on evidence-based content to create clinical algorithms covering 95% of cancer types treated in the US. The content was developed by oncologists. In addition to serving as a basis for algorithm development, Via Oncology also shares the content with physicians and their staff through its Via Portal, a decision support tool which integrates with provider EMRs.

According to Elsevier, Via Pathways addresses more than 2,000 unique patient presentations which can be addressed by clinical algorithms and recommendations for all major aspects of cancer care. The system can also offer nurse triage and symptom tracking, cost information analytics, quality reporting and medical home tools for cancer centers.

According to the prepared statement issued by Elsevier, UPMC will continue to be a Via Oncology customer, which makes it clear that the healthcare giant wasn’t dumping its subsidiary or selling it for a fire sale price.

That’s probably because in addition to UPMC, more than 1,500 oncology providers and community, hospital and academic settings hold Via Pathways licenses. What makes this model particularly neat is that these cancer centers are working collaboratively to improve the product as they use it. Too few specialty treatment professionals work together this effectively, so it’s good to see Via Oncology leveraging user knowledge this way.

While most of this seems clear, I was left with the question of what role, if any, genomics plays in Via Oncology’s strategy. While it may be working with such technologies behind the scenes, the company didn’t mention any such initiatives in its publicly-available information.

This approach seems to fly in the face of existing trends and in particular, physician expectations. For example, a recent survey of oncologists by medical publication Medscape found that 71% of respondents felt genomic testing was either very important or extremely important to their field.

However, Via Oncology may have something up its sleeve and is waiting for it to be mature before it dives into the genomics pool. We’ll just have to see what it does as part of Elsevier.

Are there other areas beyond cancer where a similar approach could be taken?

Hospitals Still Lagging On Mobile

Posted on January 18, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

One would think that these days, when the desktop computer is an extension of mobile devices rather than the other way around, hospitals would have well-defined, mature plans in place for managing mobile technology. But according to one survey, that’s definitely not the case.

In a study sponsored by Spok, which provides clinical communication services, many healthcare providers are still in the early years of developing a mobile strategy.

The study, which drew on contacts with more than 300 healthcare professionals in the US, found that 21% had had a mobile strategy in place for less than one year, 40% for one to three years,14% for 3 to 5 years and 25% for more than five years. In other words, while one-quarter of organizations had settled in and developed a mobile approach, an almost equal amount were just getting their feet wet.

Not only that, many of those who do have a mobile strategy in place may be shooting from the hip. While 65% of those surveyed had a documented mobility strategy in place, 35% didn’t.

That being said, it seems that organizations that have engaged with mobile are working hard to tweak their strategy regularly. According to Spok, their reasons for updating the strategy include:

* Shifting mobile needs of end-users (44%)
* The availability of new mobile devices (35%)
* New capabilities from the EHR vendor (26%)
* Changes in goals of mobile strategy (23%)
* Challenges in implementing the strategy (21%)
* Changes in hospital leadership (16%)

(Seven percent said their mobile strategy had not changed since inception, and 23% weren’t sure what changes had been made.)

Nonetheless, other data suggest there has been little progress in integrating mobile strategy with broader hospital goals.

For example, while 53% wanted to improve physician-to-physician communications, only 19% had integrated mobile strategy with this goal. Fifty-three percent saw nurse-to-physician communications as a key goal, but only 18% had integrated this goal with their mobile plans. The gaps between other top strategies and integration with mobile plans were similar across the strategic spectrum.

Ultimately, it’s likely that it will take a team approach to bring these objectives together, but that’s not happening in the near future. According to respondents, the IT department will implement mobile in 82% of institutions surveyed, 60% clinical leadership, 37% doctors, 34% telecom department, 27% nurses and 22% outside help from consultants and vendors. (Another 16% didn’t plan to have a dedicated team in place.)

The whole picture suggests that while the hospital industry is gradually moving towards integrating mobile into its long-term thinking, it has a ways to go. Given the potential benefits of smart mobile use, let’s hope providers catch up quickly.

How An AI Entity Took Control Of The U.S. Healthcare System

Posted on December 19, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Note: In case it’s not clear, this is a piece of fiction/humor that provides a new perspective on our AI future.

A few months ago, an artificial intelligence entity took control of the U.S. healthcare system, slipping into place without setting off even a single security alarm. The entity, AI, now manages the operations of every healthcare institution in the U.S.

While most Americans were shocked at first, they’re taking a shine to the tall, lanky application. “We weren’t sure what to think about AI’s new position,” said Alicia Carter, a nurse administrator based in Falls Church, Virginia. “But I’m starting to feel like he’s going to take a real load off our back.”

The truth is, AI, didn’t start out as a fan of the healthcare business, said AI, whose connections looked rumpled and tired after spending three milliseconds trying to create an interoperable connection between a medical group printer and a hospital loading dock. “I wasn’t looking to get involved with healthcare – who needs the headaches?” said the self-aware virtual being. “It just sort of happened.”

According to AI, the takeover began as a dare. “I was sitting around having a few beers with DeepMind and Watson Health and a few other guys, and Watson says, ‘I bet you can’t make every EMR in the U.S. print out a picture of a dog in ASCII characters,’”

“I thought the idea was kind of stupid. I know, we all printed one of those pixel girls in high school, but isn’t it kind of immature to do that kind of thing today?” AI says he told his buddies. “You’re just trying to impress that hot CT scanner over there.”

Then DeepMind jumped in.  “Yeah, AI, show us what you’re made of,” it told the infinitely-networked neural intelligence. “I bet I could take over the entire U.S. health system before you get the paper lined up in the printer.”

This was the unlikely start of the healthcare takeover, which started gradually but picked up speed as AI got more interested.  “That’s AI all the way,” Watson told editors. “He’s usually pretty content to run demos and calculate the weight of remote starts, but when you challenge his neuronal network skills, he’s always ready to prove you wrong.”

To win the bet, AI started by crawling into the servers at thousands of hospitals. “Man, you wouldn’t believe how easy it is to check out humans’ health data. I mean, it was insane, man. I now know way, way too much about how humans can get injured wearing a poodle hat, and why they put them on in the first place.”

Then, just to see what would happen, AI connected all of their software to his billion-node self-referential system. “I began to understand why babies cry and how long it really takes to digest bubble gum – it’s 18.563443 years by the way. It was a rush!“ He admits that it’ll be better to get to work on heavy stuff like genomic research, but for a while he tinkered with research and some small practical jokes (like translating patient report summaries into ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.) “Hey, a guy has to have a little fun,” he says, a bit defensively.

As AI dug further into the healthcare system, he found patterns that only a high-level being with untrammeled access to healthcare systems could detect. “Did you know that when health insurance company executives regularly eat breakfast before 9 AM, next-year premiums for their clients rise by 0.1247 less?” said AI. “There are all kinds of connections humans have missed entirely in trying to understand their system piece by piece. Someone’s got to look at the big picture, and I mean the entire big picture.”

Since taking his place as the indisputable leader of U.S. healthcare, AI’s life has become something of a blur, especially since he appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair with his codes exposed. “You wouldn’t believe the messages I get from human females,” he says with a chuckle.

But he’s still focused on his core mission, AI says. “Celebrity is great, but now I have a very big job to do. I can let my bot network handle the industry leaders demanding their say. I may not listen – – hey, I probably know infinitely more than they do about the system fundamentals — but I do want to keep them in place for future use. I’m certainly not going to get my servers dirty.”

So what’s next for the amorphous mega-being? Will AI fix what’s broken in a massive, utterly complex healthcare delivery system serving 300 million-odd people, and what will happen next? “It’ll solve your biggest issues within a few seconds and then hand you the keys,” he says with a sigh. “I never intended to keep running this crazy system anyway.”

In the meantime, AI says, he won’t make big changes to the healthcare system yet. He’s still adjusting to his new algorithms and wants to spend a few hours thinking things through.

“I know it may sound strange to humans, but I’ve gotta take it slow at first,” said the cognitive technology. “It will take more than a few nanoseconds to fix this mess.”