Oracle’s Seema Verma on the huge opportunities in healthcare and life sciences

The former industry regulator and now Oracle EVP and GM for health and life sciences discusses the most promising solutions to the industries’ biggest challenges.

Margaret Lindquist | February 02, 2024

Seema Verma has had an interesting journey in the healthcare industry, leading to her newly appointed role as executive vice president and GM of both Oracle Health and Oracle Life Sciences, a strategic shift for Oracle to connect these industries for the first time. Most recently, she spent four years as chief administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and she is now helping to oversee Oracle’s ambitious plan to, as Chairman and CTO Larry Ellison puts it, “build a revolutionary new health management information system in the cloud.” I recently interviewed Verma about the company’s vision for the intersection of life sciences and healthcare, and what’s needed to make that happen.

With its acquisition of electronic health records (EHR) provider Cerner combined with the data-driven research and insights from Cerner Enviza and Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications Suite, Oracle now has the technology to help revolutionize how healthcare enterprises provide care, including such things as patient interactions, supply chains, and staffing. The Cerner acquisition also brought the Learning Health Network, a collection of de-identified data from more than 117-member healthcare providers, representing more than 2,608 facilities across 44 states and Washington, D.C. These assets represent decades of life sciences expertise spanning commercial, real-world, clinical, and regulatory research. Which, combined with Oracle’s multiple decades of expertise in life sciences, including clinical trials and pharmacovigilance, delivers a unique industry position.

Tell us about your role and how the interplay between Oracle’s healthcare and life sciences units will benefit customers and the business

Verma: This marks a significant moment in the evolution of our healthcare offerings. Our goal is to create a more holistic, patient-centered approach to improve care delivery and patient outcomes. By operating in tandem, while respecting each area’s unique challenges, we look to bridge the gap between clinical research and clinical care. This synergy is not just beneficial—it's essential for fostering innovation and taking on the toughest clinical, operational, and workforce challenges.

During my time at the CMS, I saw firsthand the challenges and opportunities to transform our healthcare system, from the day-to-day challenges that doctors and patients were facing to the larger problems the entire system had. Our focus was on solving these problems to make the healthcare system sustainable, affordable, and accessible and to improve quality and outcomes. I implemented programs that were strategic in their ability to resolve long-standing healthcare issues, like advancing value-based care, system interoperability, hospital at home, and telehealth, while reducing drug prices and regulatory burdens, through our Patients over Paperwork initiative. Technology has a critical role to play in addressing some of our most pressing healthcare problems. Our path forward will be paved with innovations in data science, AI, and ML—not as buzzwords, but as real tools that will make it easier for providers to advance innovation.

How do Cerner’s capabilities and Oracle’s solutions combine to help improve management of clinical trials and other research?

Verma: No other company in the world has the unique combination of assets that Oracle delivers—cloud infrastructure and both EHR and life sciences applications. We have access to an unprecedented amount of data through our EHR and Learning Health Network, and we have hundreds of researchers who are analyzing that data to derive meaningful insights to help improve patient outcomes. Then we bring in all of that data into the clinical trial and safety software so that our customers aren’t reentering data. It reduces the burden and errors and enables our customers to move faster and more efficiently to get new treatments approved and in the market, backed by the accurate safety data.

Collectively, these assets will not only speed up the pace of innovation, but they’ll also let doctors know when their patients qualify for a clinical trial. They can monitor patient participation in that trial directly within the EHR, provide access to the latest research, and give providers the outcomes of those clinical trials.

Technology has a critical role to play in addressing some of our most pressing healthcare problems. Our path forward will be paved with innovations in data science, AI, and ML—not as buzzwords, but as real tools that will make it easier for providers to advance innovation.”

Seema Verma Executive Vice President and GM, Oracle Health and Oracle Life Sciences

Another critical area is openness and interoperability. We always planned to be EHR-agnostic because part of the challenge today is that solutions sit in silos, making it difficult if not impossible to connect the data that will fuel population health improvements, personalized medicine, disease prevention, and more. We believe in the power of the ecosystem, and we want to work with everyone.

For example, a decade or so ago, government regulations didn't require interoperability, because they thought that the EHR companies would just do it. They didn't, and you needed all of them—you couldn't just have one decide to do it. Now the rules are pretty clear. They mandate interoperability. Today, reimbursement is tied to interoperability. We have unleashed the data, but it's a tsunami of information, it's chaotic, and it's not organized for providers or the patient.

Real-life example: You could potentially have four or five healthcare portals on your phone. And when you get your data, it's not organized. It's visit by visit as opposed to, say, here's the history of my hemoglobin over three years, and here are the actions I need to take. We're now in an era of analytics and AI, where the provider can securely take that data and make predictions that can help prevent disease progression and make a proactive intervention on behalf of the patient. We can say to physicians, You’re going to be able to compare your patient to other patients who are similarly situated and find out how other doctors are treating a patient just like yours. I say this to doctors all the time, that the way you are practicing today is going to be entirely different 10 years from now because of the new tools that are available or will be coming soon.

What are the biggest obstacles pharmaceutical companies face in managing clinical trials?

Verma: In today's world, there's still a big divide between clinical research and clinical care. If you're a patient at an academic medical center, it's great—you're going to be able to get your regular care, and if you want to be in a clinical trial, you might be able to get into one if you’re getting care in a certain place. But most people don't live near an academic medical center. And even in those medical centers, you have access only to trials they are doing.

We have the potential to bridge the gap in two ways. Through predictive technology, we should be able to say we think a patient would be a candidate for these potential studies and flag it inside the EHR. Second, the systems for clinical research are completely separate from clinical care, which means if I'm doing a clinical trial, I have to take the information and manually re-enter it into the clinical trial system. Going forward, we're planning to eliminate this burden. Data should be able to flow without manual re-entry.

When I was a regulator, one of my jobs was to make coverage decisions for the country: Will we cover this? One of the mysteries people didn't quite understand is they thought, well, if a treatment was approved by the FDA and the FDA said it was safe and effective, then automatically CMS was going to pay for it. And that's not always the case. CMS wanted to see data that showed it was effective in the Medicare population that was over 65. We would require a bit more data. And we're seeing a push from regulators across the world where they want the data to show, does this actually work? Does it work better than what's already available on the market?

Modernizing healthcare systems is a challenge. What will Oracle’s main focus areas be, and which kinds of problems will you be looking to solve?

If we look at the bigger picture, the cost of healthcare is enormous. Our government and employers are struggling to support that. This is not just a problem in the United States, but also worldwide. Policymakers are trying to figure out how to deliver high-quality, accessible healthcare. That, to me, is the largest problem in healthcare. Not only do we have a burnt-out workforce that's struggling, but on top of that, our Medicare population is increasing. People are living longer, and as they live longer, the demand for healthcare services is more acute. At the same time, we're seeing clinicians and other industry people, who are so frustrated with the healthcare system, and a lot of the manual work required, that they're leaving.

There’s a big opportunity for technology to remove a lot of the manual work. But the other piece of this is spending. We spend a lot of money on administrative costs, so there are opportunities to realign the financial incentives through value-based care, tying reimbursements to outcomes, and creating an environment where providers or even insurers are competing based on cost and quality. There’s also the opportunity to simplify the processes we have. There are a lot of administrative costs because of that lack of connection between payers and providers. We’re ready to help fill that connection void.

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