Margaret Lindquist, Writer and content strategist
Days after Oracle closed its acquisition of Cerner, a provider of healthcare information systems, Oracle Chairman and CTO Larry Ellison committed the company to giving providers better information that will help transform healthcare. That included outlining a compelling plan to build a new generation of modern, secure healthcare information systems.
“Together, Cerner and Oracle have all the technology required to build a revolutionary new health management information system in the cloud,” said Ellison.
The challenge, according to Ellison: The industry’s management systems are hospital-centric, not patient-centric, so if you’re a typical healthcare consumer your data might be spread out across a dozen databases, or more—one for every provider you visit. Just as bad, for any researcher or public policymaker trying to study healthcare trends, the records of US citizens sit in thousands of databases across the country. “This patient data fragmentation causes tremendous problems—two of them extremely serious,” said Ellison.
The first problem relates to the quality of patient outcomes. For example, if your primary care takes place in California, but you visit Cleveland and need care, your providers there likely won’t have easy access to your basic data such as blood type, medical history, or allergies. “Without that information, doctors can't provide the best healthcare in case of an emergency,” said Ellison.
The second problem is around public health policy. Without a unified database that contains anonymized data from healthcare providers throughout the country, it’s almost impossible for public health officials to get a timely and complete view of the state of a nation’s health. For example, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials in New York City were concerned about running out of beds, so a hospital ship was dispatched to New York harbor to allow overflow from hospitals. “Turns out the hospital ship was never used,” said Ellison. “They were worried about running out of beds, but they didn't really have any data.”
The combination of Oracle and Cerner puts a solution to these problems within closer reach. Cerner’s clinical capabilities and expertise combined with the Oracle’s enterprise cloud platform, analytics capabilities, and healthcare technology knowledge, will be dedicated to the goal of making healthcare records more unified and accessible at the care provider and national levels.
The goal is to deliver much better information to healthcare providers, researchers, and patients themselves.
“We have the opportunity to change healthcare like it’s never been done before,” said David Feinberg, MD, chairman of Oracle Health.
“There’s this notion that because healthcare is very complex, that the systems have to be equally complex. I think the opposite is true. I think easier-to-use systems will increase participation rates, and we'll have better outcomes as a result.”
Here are four ways Ellison believes the healthcare landscape will change with the Oracle-Cerner combination and the adoption of more unified, national health information.
Better information for policymaking: Public healthcare officials will use anonymized databases to view timely data such as COVID-19 rates, peaks and valleys of influenza, or differing rates of cancer in a particular region. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Oracle worked with the University of Oxford on a system that helps identify variants early on, so that healthcare providers can learn whether current vaccines are working against those strains and public health officials can determine if hospitals will be overrun with new patients. “Better information will allow public health officials to develop much better public health policy,” said Ellison.
Easier interfaces for doctors and nurses: User interface improvements for the Oracle Health New Millennium electronic health record (EHR) system are planned to include a voice interface to make it easier for healthcare providers to access data and input information. This will free up providers so that they spend more time with patients rather than typing in data. It will also make data easier to find in a system; clinical systems can be difficult to navigate, as clinicians move from databases that store X-ray images to databases that store appointment details. “With the voice user interface, if you want to find Larry Ellison’s most recent X-rays, you say: ‘Please give me Larry Ellison's most recent X-rays,’” said Ellison.
AI models from the industry’s best experts: The new Oracle systems will be open so that technology partners and medical researchers will be able to develop AI-based modules and integrate them into the EHR system. Those modules will allow organizations with a great deal of domain expertise to share that expertise across the country and throughout the world. For example, Oracle partner Ronin worked with MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the world’s top centers devoted to cancer patient care and research, to develop an AI module that monitors patients as they work through their treatment plans to reduce hospitalization. “People at Oracle are not going to be developing these AI models,” Ellison said. “But Oracle Health New Millennium is an open system, and it allows medical professionals at MD Anderson to go ahead and build these AI modules to help other doctors treat cancer.”
More, and more data-based, communication: Oracle will open more two-way communications channels for patients and doctors to talk and share data. Some early examples of these capabilities were part of the CDC’s v-safe program, developed by Oracle, which is used to track the effects of the COVID-19 vaccines through voluntary, scheduled survey prompts, and to remind people about boosters. The capabilities are being extended so that data from wearable devices and home monitoring systems can be communicated to healthcare facilities. This two-way channel will also allow clinical trial researchers to expand their reach to communities that aren’t close to a clinical site, giving researchers access to a much more diverse pool of participants. “You don't have to be in Boston or New York or L.A. to be in a clinical trial,” said Ellison. “So you get much better information about populations where the drug is effective and other populations where it might not be effective.”
This is what the world needs more of, according to Mike Sicilia, Oracle’s EVP for Oracle Global Industries—health systems that are simple to use, consumer friendly, and high value. “There's this notion that because healthcare is very complex, that the systems have to be equally complex,” says Sicilia. “I think the opposite is true. I think easier-to-use systems will increase participation rates, and we'll have better outcomes as a result.”
Oracle’s information security capabilities will also be deeply embedded into these solutions. A patient’s personal data should be accessible only to that person and whoever they choose to share it with, all in accordance with local laws. All the health records stored in a national database would be anonymized, and no one will know who they belong to unless the patient supplies a key. Said Oracle Health’s Feinberg: “I want my data to be secure and private, but I also want it to flow to my providers so we have this back and forth about what I need to do to achieve my health goals.” At the community level, public health officials will have access to data but without any personal identifiers. “Public health officials can count the people, but not name the people,” said Ellison.
With Cerner, Oracle has the potential to change healthcare far more than it and other electronic records already have. It will help healthcare providers lower costs, improve patient outcomes, and drive community health efforts that result in new treatments and better public health policy.
“We’re delivering world-class technology coupled with a deep and long history of understanding how healthcare works,” said Feinberg. “I don’t think anyone has ever done that before.”