Oracle’s Safra Catz on the wide-ranging lessons of COVID-19

In a discussion at Cleveland Clinic’s 2020 Medical Innovation Summit, Oracle’s CEO delves into how the pandemic is changing perspectives on data, cloud technology, and how healthcare is delivered.

By Margaret Lindquist | October 2020

When the pandemic’s full impact struck, “None of us was ready,” said Oracle CEO Safra Catz. But at Oracle, people across the company very quickly realized there was a lot they could do and had to offer to help companies and governments through this crisis. “We said, ‘There's nothing more important than getting this done.’ And we brought every piece of us into the fight.”

Oracle’s Safra Catz on the wide-ranging lessons of COVID-19

Cleveland Clinic CFO Steven Glass and Oracle CEO Safra Catz discuss the role of data in healthcare during the Cleveland Clinic 2020 Medical Innovation Summit.

Speaking with Cleveland Clinic CFO Steven Glass at the clinic’s Medical Innovation Summit on October 6, Catz discussed how Oracle has spent decades making sure that researchers, governments, and companies have two things readily available: large amounts of data and inexpensive computing power to understand the data. Today, according to Catz, healthcare providers are still in the early days of using the massive amounts of patient, clinical, operational, and other data they collect every day in disparate systems worldwide.

Here are six insights from Catz on how data and technology can transform the healthcare system.

1. Catz described how Oracle is helping organizations unleash the power—including the predictive power—of data they already have.

“We have invested billions in the technology and the rollout of our second-generation cloud, because to really understand these large amounts of data, you have to use the newest technologies: artificial intelligence, machine learning, and autonomous computing. What we've been able to do is unleash that capability for many of our customers. It can be something like making sure that healthcare providers were immediately able to staff, pay, and set up the HR systems for the doctors in their field hospital. Or something as complex as researchers using high-performance computing to peer deep into the COVID proteins to figure out exactly where you can hit it with something to wipe it out. For decades, we’ve had healthcare systems that are very good at telling us what’s already happened. But we need systems that embrace AI and machine learning to tell us what may happen next. To do this, you must have very inexpensive compute, which is now possible with the cloud, and very available analytic tools, which are now easy to just turn on.”

2. Glass asked Catz to focus on two big healthcare challenges: the huge amount of data stored in systems and the ability to analyze that data.

“So much medical data is fragmented. It's all over the place. If you’re on vacation and you scratch your finger with a rusty nail, you go into an emergency room and they start asking you questions, and you have no idea when you had your last tetanus shot because that's in a folder three states away at your doctor's office. Before you can even use AI, you’ve got to get all that data in. And that's been one of the huge stumbling blocks, because before we had this massive emergency, everyone said, ‘No, I'm going to hold onto my data.’ But what we’re seeing now is that there's technology to allow for sharing information securely, often anonymized, because for large-scale analysis, you don't actually need to know who it is.”

3. Catz highlighted how the pandemic led to widespread use of virtual patient visits, which she doesn’t think will go away after the crisis eases.

“Think of all the healthcare that can be provided to those who otherwise can't afford it. It's enormous. And especially the availability of care for the elderly who can't get around as much; this is groundbreaking. Before this crisis, if you had asked people if they were willing to do it, I don't know what percentage would have said yes. And now, I think we're going to see it everywhere.”


“This is the time to really put your foot on the accelerator. People always think it's risky to go fast. I think that it's risky to go slow.”

Safra Catz, CEO, Oracle

4. Glass, touching on the Cleveland Clinic’s experience migrating to Oracle Cloud ERP, asked Catz to highlight the opportunities that the cloud offers.

“First of all, you have to simplify, you have to standardize, you have to decide that you're going to get from point A to point B in a straight line. It's not like things are getting less expensive. Labor is expensive, and human error is expensive, and security issues are expensive. So you have to keep your business as simple as possible, whether it's the accounting or the analysis of therapies and medications, or warehouse management, pharmaceuticals management, or your HR system—everything’s got to be as simple as possible. In fact, in almost all these transformations to a modern system, the hard part is not the technology. The hard part is the sociology, it's the people, and the adaption to change that has to occur.”

5. Catz described some new ways that Oracle has helped government agencies and the medical community study and combat the coronavirus.

“This disaster that is COVID, this tragedy of human life worldwide, made us realize that how we collect and store patient data had to change. We've built systems that bring together therapeutic data, that allow patients to input data. We've developed systems to track therapy efficacy, but also to make it easier to schedule and manage testing, monitor patients, and administer vaccine tests—absolutely everything related to COVID. We've built a health management system that is now rolling out worldwide, with the goal of tracking real-world patient data to help the medical community get a broad view of how the virus is progressing and what is working and what’s not in terms of treatments.”

6. Glass asked for parting words of wisdom about delivering both innovation and superior patient care in the months and years to come.

“This is the time to really put your foot on the accelerator. People always think it's risky to go fast. I think that it's risky to go slow. This is the moment. The technology is here. Many of us in the industry have invested billions in capabilities so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. There are analytics tools, there's high-performance computing, there's AI, there's so much amazing technology. And now is the time, because there is no time to waste. Why shouldn't it be the new normal that you can do things in a year, in two years, versus two decades sometimes? So let's grab this moment and go, because the most important thing in the world is at stake, and that is the lives of our people.”

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Photo: Courtesy of Cleveland Clinic

Margaret Lindquist

Margaret Lindquist

Margaret Lindquist is a senior director and writer at Oracle.