During a keynote presentation at Oracle CloudWorld on October 18, Oracle Chairman and CTO Larry Ellison laid out why the company is well positioned to help solve one of the world’s greatest public-interest and technology problems: building and deploying integrated, mostly automated healthcare information systems and processes.
One of the biggest challenges in healthcare technology is creating electronic health records (EHRs) that are patient-centric rather than provider-centric, Ellison said. A typical person’s medical history is now scattered across EHR systems, one for each of the individual’s providers over the years, making it difficult for doctors to access all the information they need to make informed and timely treatment decisions, he noted.
Say your primary care provider is in California, but you experience a medical emergency in Montana or London. Your caregivers there likely won’t have easy access to your medical history, Ellison said, putting your health in jeopardy. This challenge is particularly acute in the US.
Things get even more complicated for policymakers and medical researchers trying to study US health trends and develop new treatments because the records of all US citizens are contained in thousands of database silos nationwide, Ellison said. It’s difficult for them to find answers to even the most fundamental large-scale health questions, such as how many COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in the last 24 hours or which kinds of monkeypox variants are spreading and where.
During his CloudWorld keynote, Ellison called attention to the healthcare tools and expertise Oracle brings to the industry’s integration and automation mission: the company’s open cloud infrastructure (including interconnects with other vendors’ clouds); its comprehensive cloud application suites (including ones for healthcare and life sciences); its decades of data management leadership; and its recent acquisition of Cerner, whose Millennium EHR system, used by more than 2,000 hospital groups and practices, Oracle is starting to modernize as a cloud application.
But Oracle isn’t trying to do this alone. Ellison emphasized that succeeding with the mission will require the cooperation of the entire healthcare ecosystem, including care providers, major technology system vendors, independent software vendors (ISVs), researchers, and pharmaceutical companies. “There’s no way we can do this by ourselves,” he said. “We don’t have the domain expertise to do this by ourselves. We have to have partners as we automate the ecosystem.”
Oracle’s commitment to improving healthcare and tackling the sector’s most complex challenges goes back many years, well before the Cerner acquisition. Oracle infrastructure and applications have long been used to advance medical research, power clinical trials, and help healthcare providers better manage their financial planning, inventories, supply chains, and workforces.
But Ellison emphasized that, going forward, the industry will need a completely different set of tools—cloud-based tools—than were used to produce previous generations of healthcare applications. The potential for this new approach became clear to Ellison seeing the work Oracle did during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We proved to ourselves that we could be much more productive,” he said. “And once we realized how much more productive we could be with the new tools, we got much more ambitious with the kind of healthcare applications we wanted to build”—and how fast the company could build them.
For example, Oracle worked closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health during the pandemic to electronically prescreen more than 600,000 individuals who signed up for vaccine clinical trials. Oracle also developed v-SafeSM, a smartphone application that lets individuals who received a COVID-19 vaccination self-report how they’re feeling at regular intervals so that the CDC can track adverse effects. An Oracle team built the application in just six weeks on Oracle Autonomous Database using the Oracle APEX low-code development platform.
Ellison also cited Oracle’s important work with Oxford University to deploy—in just 68 days—the Global Pathogen Analysis System to help research organizations, public health agencies, and diagnostic companies better understand the makeup and spread of COVID-19 and its variants. Oxford originally built the system to track tuberculosis.
During his keynote, Ellison called attention to the applications Oracle is developing to help healthcare providers manage their people—a critical priority amid the worldwide shortage of doctors, physician assistants, nurses, and other frontline health workers, exacerbated by pandemic-related burnout.
New enhancements to the Oracle Fusion Cloud Human Capital Management and Enterprise Performance Management application suites are designed to make it easier for healthcare organizations to recruit, schedule, evaluate, pay, and forecast demand for workers. Ellison compared healthcare providers to Uber and other gig economy companies in that many providers are managing a revolving cast of employees and nonemployees working unpredictable hours from a variety of locations under different kinds of contracts.
Oracle is also developing a smartphone application to help doctors and nurses inside large hospitals quickly identify the nearest on-premises location of drugs, medical devices, and other critical RFID-tagged supplies. And the company is working to automate the process for insurance company payments to healthcare providers, which is still manually intensive.
Meantime, AI-powered voice-to-text applications and other UI improvements Oracle is developing for Cerner Millennium EHRs show promise in reducing the time doctors and nurses spend inputting and accessing data and handling ever-expanding documentation requirements, freeing them up to spend more time with patients. Ellison noted during his keynote that once Millennium is a full-fledged cloud application, Oracle Cerner will deliver such improvements automatically as part of regular quarterly updates.
As an example of the value of open systems and partner cooperation, Ellison cited Oracle’s work with Ronin Healthcare. The ISV developed an AI module for MD Anderson Cancer Center that’s designed to reduce hospitalizations of cancer patients by monitoring them during their outpatient treatment plans. The module can plug into Cerner Millennium or any other open EHR.
Ellison once again emphasized that improving health system connectivity, automation, and ultimately patient health outcomes is a much bigger challenge than any company can take on alone.
“So we have to build a platform, not just a healthcare application or series of healthcare applications,” he said. “We can build some of those. But we have to build an open platform where others can innovate and plug in their technology.”
Ellison continued: “We’re absolutely committed to the mission, and we have a lot of help from a lot of partners who are just as committed as we are.”
References to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or National Institutes of Health does not imply endorsement of Oracle by the CDC or NIH.
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