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Execs Say Silicon Valley Has The Jump On Healthcare Innovation

Posted on September 12, 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, it’s begun to look as though the leading lights of Silicon Valley might bring the next wave of transformation to healthcare. But can they work big changes in the industry on their own, or are they more likely to succeed by throwing their extremely considerable muscle behind existing healthcare players? That’s one of the many questions at issue as companies like Google, Amazon (Yes, I know they’re in Seattle), and Facebook shoulder their way into the business.

According to a new survey by Reaction Data, many healthcare execs think Amazon, in particular, has the potential to change the game.  When asked which outside entrants were most likely to disrupt the healthcare industry, two-thirds of respondents said the that the online retailing giant topped the list. “Amazon is ahead of the game in many ways compared to the other companies,” a chief nursing officer told Reaction Data.

There’s little doubt that there’s an opening for a company like Amazon to solve some pressing problems. As an industry outsider – unless you count its recent big-ticket acquisition of PillPack, which happened about a minute ago – Amazon may be able to bring fresh eyes to some of healthcare’s biggest problems. For example, what health exec wouldn’t kill to benefit from the e-retailer’s immense logistics capabilities? The mind boggles.

Facebook and Google aren’t making as many healthcare headlines, but they too are moving carefully into the business. For example, consider Google’s partnership with Stanford aimed at creating digital scribes. The digital scribe initiative may not seem like much, but I wouldn’t underestimate what Google can learn from the effort and how effectively it can operationalize this knowledge. It isn’t 2010 anymore, and I think the search giant has come a long way since its Google Health PHR effort collapsed.

Facebook, too, has made some tentative steps toward building a healthcare business, such as its recent agreement to collaborate with the NYU School of Medicine on speeding up MRI scanning using AI. The social networking giant hasn’t shown itself capable of much diversification to date, but I wouldn’t count it out, if for no other reasons than the massive profits to be made. Even for Facebook, we’re talking about serious money here.

If you’re wondering what these companies hope to accomplish, it’s not surprising. There are so many possibilities. One place to start is rethinking the EHR. Maybe I’m a starry-eyed dreamer, but I agree with observers like Dale Sanders, an executive with HealthCatalyst, who argues that Silicon Valley disrupters might be poised to bring something new to the table. “I keep hoping that the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of the world will quietly build a new generation EMR,” Sanders writes in a recent column.

EMR transformation is just one of many potential targets of opportunity for the Silicon Valley gang, though. There’s obviously a raft of other goals healthcare leaders might like to see realized, The truth is, though, that it matters less what the Silicon Valley giants do than the competitive scramble they kick off within the industry. Even if these behemoths never succeed in leading the charge, they’re likely to spur others to do so.

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.

Healthcare AI Needs a Breadth and Depth of Data

Posted on May 17, 2018 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today I’m enjoying the New England HIMSS Spring Conference including an amazing keynote session by Dale Sanders from Health Catalyst. Next week I’ll be following up this blog post with some other insights that Dale shared at the New England HIMSS event, but today I just wanted to highlight one powerful concept that he shared:

Healthcare AI Needs a Breadth and Depth of Data

As part of this idea, Dale shared the following image to illustrate how much data is really needed for AI to effectively assess our health:

Dale pointed out that in healthcare today we really only have access to the data in the bottom right corner. That’s not enough data for AI to be able to properly assess someone’s health. Dale also suggested the following about EHR data:

Long story short, the EHR data is not going to be enough to truly assess someone’s health. As Google recently proved, a simple algorithm with more data is much more powerful than a sophisticated algorithm with less data. While we think we have a lot of data in healthcare, we really don’t have that much data. Dale Sanders made a great case for why we need more data if we want AI to be effective in healthcare.

What are you doing in your organization to collect data? What are you doing to get access to this data? Does collection of all of this data scare anyone? How far away are we from this data driven, AI future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Better Tech is Here for Healthcare

Posted on September 13, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog by Brandt Welker, CTO at MedicaSoft. This is the second blog in a three-part sponsored blog post series focused on new HIT for integration. Each month, a different MedicaSoft expert will share insights on new and innovative technology and its applications in healthcare.

What are some of the common complaints doctors and nurses have about their EHRs?

“I have to click too much.” “Information is buried.” “It doesn’t follow my workflow.” “It’s slow.”

“I feel like a data entry clerk.” “*insert your favorite gripe here*” There is no shortage of commentary on the issues irking clinicians when it comes to technology. What there is a shortage of are ideas to fix it.

Better technology is out there serving other industries … and it can be applied in healthcare. Technology should ease administrative loads and put clinicians back in front of patients! I’ve talked about some of this previously and how we keep clinicians involved in our design process. When it came to building an entirely new EHR, the driving force behind our team researching and adopting new technologies was to imagine a clean slate.

Most of our team came from backgrounds with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA’s) world of VistA. We learned a lot about legacy systems over the years – both beloved and maligned – and asked ourselves what a system would look like if it was unencumbered by the past. How would that system look? What could that system be? What technology choices should we make to simplify things? How could it play nicely with other systems and encourage true interoperability? How could it support users’ clinical workflow?

From the beginning, we decided that the most important thing was to get the platform right. Build the platform and build it right and things will work together. Build it to play nicely with other technology and interoperate. Make it fast. Make it easy. Make it open. Make it affordable. All of these needs were a part of our system “wish list.”

So, how’d we do it? We researched technology working in other fields and also elected to use HL7® FHIR® to its fullest extent. By now, you’ve probably heard a lot about the HL7® FHIR® standard. Many companies are using HL7® FHIR® to build APIs that are doing amazing things across the industry. We decided to use the HL7® FHIR® document data model as the basis of our platform – it simplifies implementation without sacrificing information integrity. We coupled it with a very powerful database and search engine – Couchbase & Elasticsearch. These are two high-performance tools used across industries. When you need a whole lot of data to move fast, you use Couchbase and Elasticsearch.

Couchbase is our NoSQL database. Couchbase is open-source and optimized for interactive applications. It provides low-latency data management (read: lots of data very quickly) for large-scale applications (like an EHR!). It lets us store records as documents and it’s really good at data replication. You might recognize Couchbase  — many other industry giants such as ebay, LinkedIn, and Verizon use it. It is an open-source database optimized for interactive applications. We selected Elasticsearch as our search engine. Some of your favorite sites and services use Elasticsearch – Netflix, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Wal-Mart, to name a few.

On top of Couchbase and Elasticsearch are FHIR APIs. These interactions are managed by type. We also use a Parser/Assembler Service that lets us combine, rearrange, and augment documents. Data is placed in the proper JSON format to be sent through the FHIR API into Couchbase. Our Community Health Record sits on top of this and everything described here is a part of our open platform – the one we built from scratch and architected to be interoperable and easy. Pretty neat, huh?

Once you have the platform, you can build all kinds of things to sit on top of it. The sky is the limit! In our case, we have a Personal Health Record and an Electronic Health Record, but we built it this way so you can use a wide range of technologies with the platform – things like Alerts or Analytics or Population Health or Third Party Applications, even custom built items that folks may have developed in-house will work with the platform. Essentially, using the platform means we can integrate with whatever you already have in place. Maybe you have an EHR with some issues, but you don’t have the time or budget allotted for another huge EHR implementation. No problem – we can help you view your data with a modern interface – without having to buy a whole other EHR. Revolutionary!

There are several other technology choices we made along the way, too – Node.js, NGINX, Angular.js are a few more. Angular.js allows us to be speedy in our development process. We can develop and build features quickly and get changes in front of clinicians for their feedback, which results in less time between product builds and releases. It means folks don’t have to wait months and months for changes they want. Angular is also web-based, which means user interfaces are modern and just like the interfaces everybody uses in their day-to-day lives. Angular.js was created by Google and there are many large companies you’ll recognize who use it to develop – PayPal, Netflix, LEGO, YouTube, to name a few.

I believe healthcare is lagging in adopting new technologies and there are a lot of excuses around why user interfaces in healthcare are generally horrible – they range from the software being written before Web 2.0 to users accepting that it is how it is and finding a way to work around their technology. The latter is probably the saddest thing I see happening in hospitals and clinics. Tech is there to make work easier, not more complicated.

There was a great quote from Dale Sanders, Executive Vice President of Product Development at Health Catalyst in MedCity News last week:

“Every C-level in healthcare has to be a bit of a technologist right now,” he said. “They need to understand this world. If you’re not aware of technology, it puts you … at a strategic disadvantage.”

I can’t emphasize how true this statement is. If you’re not paying attention to where technology is going, you’re not paying attention to where healthcare is going and you’re going to get left behind.

About Brandt Welker
Brandt is a HIT architecture and software expert. He calls Reading, Pennsylvania home. He has architected software systems and managed large IT and innovations programs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He’s also trained astronauts at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. He’s currently the Chief Technology Officer at MedicaSoft. Brandt can be found on LinkedIn.

About MedicaSoft
MedicaSoft designs, develops, delivers, and maintains EHR, PHR, and UHR software solutions and HISP services for healthcare providers and patients around the world. For more information, visit www.medicasoft.us or connect with us on Twitter @MedicaSoftLLC, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Intermountain Chooses Cerner, International EMR, and Patient Focused EMR

Posted on September 29, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.


This was really big news this week. I’m not sure it’s quite a turning point for EMR. I think we’re still early in the war, but this was a big battle for Cerner to win. We’ll see what GE decides to do after losing this deal. Will GE leave this business behind or buy another vendor?


I think we don’t look nearly enough at the international EMR experience. We could learn a lot in the US from what’s happening nationally. Plus, for many EHR vendors the international opportunity is a big one that most don’t even consider.


I’ve been preaching this for so long I can’t remember. I know there are EHR vendors that focus as much as they can on the patient, but compliance and reimbursement still means you have to make compromises. That’s not an indictment of those companies, but a reality of the situation.