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Has Amazon Brought Something New To Healthcare Data Analytics?

Posted on November 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.

Amazon’s announcement that it was getting into healthcare data analytics didn’t come as a major surprise. It was just a matter of time.

After all, the retail giant has been making noises about its health IT ambitions for a while now, and its super-sneaky 1492 team’s healthcare feints have become common knowledge.

Now, news has broken that its massive hosting division, Amazon Web Services, is offering its Comprehend Medical platform to the healthcare world. And at the risk of being a bit too flip, my reaction is “so?” I think we should all take a breath before we look at this in apocalyptic terms.

First, what does Amazon say we’re looking at here?

Like similar products targeting niches like travel booking and supply-chain management, the company reports, Comprehend Medical uses natural language processing and machine learning to pull together relevant information from unstructured text.

Amazon says Comprehend Medical can pull needed information from physician notes, patient health records and clinical trial reports, tapping into data on patient conditions and medication dosage, strength and frequency.

The e-retailer says that users can access the platform through a straightforward API call, accessing Amazon’s machine learning expertise without having to do their own development or train models of their own. Use cases it suggests include medical cohort analysis, clinical decision support and improving medical coding to tighten up revenue cycle management.

Comprehend Medical customers will be charged a fee each month based on the amount of text they process each month, either $0.01 per 100-character unit for the NERe API, which extracts entities, entity relationships, entity traits and PHI, or $0.0014 per unit if they use its PHId API, which only supports identifying PHI for data protection.

All good. All fine. Making machine learning capabilities available in a one-off hosting deal — with a vendor many providers already use — can’t be wrong.

Now, let’s look coldly at what Amazon can realistically deliver.

Make no mistake, I understand why people are excited about this announcement. As with Microsoft, Google, Apple and other top tech influencers, Amazon is potentially in the position to change the way things work in the health IT sector. It has all-star brainpower, the experience with diving into new industries and enough capital to buy a second planet for its headquarters. In other words, it could in theory change the healthcare world.

On the other hand, there’s a reason why even IBM’s Watson Health stumbled when it attempted to solve the data analytics puzzle for oncologist. Remember, we’re talking IBM here, the last bastion of corporate power. Also, bear in mind that other insanely well-capitalized, globally-recognized Silicon Valley firms are still biding their time when it comes to this stuff.

Finally, consider that many researchers think NLP is only just beginning to find its place in healthcare, and an uncertain one at that, and that machine learning models are still in their early stages, and you see where I’m headed.

Bottom line, if Google or Microsoft or Epic or Salesforce or Cerner haven’t been able to pull this off yet, I’m skeptical that Amazon has somehow pole-vaulted to the front of the line when it comes to NLP-based mining of medical text. My guess is that this product launch announcement is genuine, but was really issued more as a stake in the ground. Definitely something I would do if I worked there.

Salesforce Reportedly Working to Create $1 Billion Healthcare Business

Posted on November 10, 2014 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.

That’s the news as reported by Reuters in late October. The article talks about Salesforce’s interest in creating a healthcare business and believe it can reach $1 billion in revenue. The article also highlights how SalesForce has recently hired over a dozen people from the healthcare and medical device sectors.

Plus, they even talk about the roll out of the CareWeb Messenger product that is built on the top of Salesforce’s technology:

The University of California at San Francisco, for instance, rolled out CareWeb Messenger, built on top of Salesforce’s technology, through which doctors, nurses and patients talk online and on mobile devices. UCSF and Salesforce have close ties: in April, CEO Marc Benioff donated $100 million to its children’s hospital.

I’ll be interested to see how this first product plays out. It actually fits into Salesforce’s core competencies quite well. Although, the secure healthcare messaging space is a crowded one. With that said, I was invited to a Salesforce event to talk about healthcare. Unfortunately, the timing was bad so I couldn’t make it, but now I’m particularly interested in what was said at the event.

It seems that sooner or later, all of the big tech companies come after healthcare. We’ve seen the same with Google, Microsoft, Dell, Apple, Samsung, and many more. While it must be incredibly enticing for these companies to come after a trillion dollar market like healthcare, most of these companies come into healthcare with an amazing amount of naivety as to the complexities of healthcare. Once they get in, they find these complexities and change their mind. We’ll see if Salesforce does something similar.

With that said, Salesforce has the money, the platform and the connections to do something in healthcare. Plus, I welcome fresh ideas and perspectives from companies like Salesforce in healthcare. I think that we all agree that there’s a huge opportunity for technology to improve healthcare. I want as many people working on finding those solutions as possible. Doesn’t hurt to have a multi-billion dollar company taking an interest in it as well.

What do you think of Salesforce’s entrance into healthcare? Will they be a major player? Where do you think it makes sense for them to focus their efforts?

Some of the articles on this talk about Salesforce building an EHR or things like that. Given the regulations and the environment, I never see that happening. Although, with the money they have available to them, maybe they’ll surprise us all.

Is MUMPS the Major Healthcare Interoperability Problem?

Posted on November 11, 2011 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.

Jeremy Bikman from KATALUS Advisors wrote this interesting comment on a LinkedIn discussion I was participating in:

Perhaps there is a place for MUMPS but only if healthcare continues to thumb its nose at the prevailing technology trends. It’s hard for me to envision healthcare to continue to embrace a technology that doesn’t like to play nicely with other non-MUMPS systems. If there were real advantages to it you would see a fair number of high tech firms utilizing it (Facebook, salesforce.com, Twitter, Spotify, etc).

If your goal is to have an enterprise system with a database that has some scale to it and certainly has good speed, and you don’t really care about interoperability with other systems, then MUMPS is certainly a good viable option. But IMO, the days of healthcare IT being insular, and moving out of phase with the rest of the tech world, are numbered.

I found this comment incredibly interesting. Mostly because I’ve never personally believed that the fact that many of the larger healthcare IT and EMR systems are built on MUMPS was any part of the reason why healthcare entities aren’t interoperable. I’m a tech guy by background, but I’ve never worked on a MUMPS software system myself so I don’t have first hand knowledge of MUMPS in particular. However, it seems wrong to “blame” MUMPS on the lack of healthcare data interoperability.

I guess the way I look at it is that no matter which database back end you have, you’re always going to need some front end interface to take care of the transport of the healthcare data to another system. Is this any harder with MUMPS than another SQL or even NOSQL database? From my experience it shouldn’t matter. I’d love to hear if there are reasons why it is harder.

I also don’t want to give the impression that Jeremy is trying to say that MUMPS is the only reason that healthcare IT has been so insular and closed. I’m pretty sure he agrees with me that a lot of other factors that have stopped healthcare from sharing data. I just don’t believe that MUMPS is one of those reasons.

Of course, the question of whether MUMPS should continue in healthcare is a different question. In fact, I wrote about MUMPS in healthcare IT and EMR here.

What are your thoughts? Is MUMPS the problem with healthcare interoperability? What are the other reasons stopping healthcare interoperability?

Update: Jeremy Bikman provided the following clarifying comment in the comments of this post:
Good points John. I really should have clarified. MUMPS is not really the issue (although I still stand by my assertion that if it was such a superior technology you’d see it all over Silicon Valley, RTP, etc). The main issue is really with the walled garden (w/ razor wire and machine guns along the top) approach of the major EMR/HIS vendors that have it as their foundation.

The more control you exert over your clients and the harder you make it to connect with other systems, the more money you can make…at least in the short-term.

John’s thought: I still look forward to the discussion around MUMPS and interoperability and healthcare interoperability in general.