One of the most profound problems in American healthcare (and perhaps globally) is the fragmented and siled nature of healthcare data. This narrative is largely driven by the vast number of electronic health record (EHR) systems that are currently in use. These are the systems that contain a person’s medical data, history, and past treatment records. When a patient has a healthcare encounter, their information is accessed through an EHR system, so physicians can provide curated treatment per the patient’s history and background.
The problem, however, arises from the fact that there are many different EHR and health IT systems, meaning that a patient’s records may not be accessible across different organizations. This poses a massive issue: if John Doe ends up in a hospital that is different from his native institution for any reason, unless that hospital happens to use the same exact record and information system, it would be challenging for the treating physicians to access any of John Doe’s previous medical history. This creates a myriad of difficulties when trying to determine how best to treat someone, understand someone’s healthcare history, and get a holistic sense of the patient.
For many years, healthcare pundits have highlighted this as a huge impediment to achieving better patient outcomes. Accordingly, many people have also proposed a solution for this: why not just create a universal system that can be implemented across all healthcare institutions?
This is the exact question that Larry Ellison, co-founder and leader of world-renowned technology company, Oracle, is trying to solve. The company has been a pioneer in the healthcare sector, with its cloud computing technology and advanced systems software supporting some of the world’s largest health organizations and institutions.
Most recently, Oracle furthered its vision of driving impact in healthcare by purchasing Cerner for nearly $28 billion dollars. Cerner is one of the world’s largest EHR systems, used by institutions worldwide to organize millions of patient records and encounters. This means that Oracle now not only has access to this data, but also has a unique opportunity to scale this concept into something more effective for the industry.
Ellison shared his thoughts regarding this during Oracle’s The Future of Healthcare conference earlier this month: “Together, Cerner and Oracle have all the technology required to build a revolutionary new health management information system in the cloud […] That system will deliver much better information to healthcare professionals. Better information will fundamentally transform healthcare […] We’re building a system where the health records, all American citizens’ health records, not only exist at the hospital level, but they are all in a unified national healthcare database […] The national database solves the data electronic health record fragmentation problem.”
Of course, this journey will face significant hurdles. This is certainly not the first time a national database has been proposed as a solution to health records fragmentation. However, health records are notoriously challenging to navigate and organize, given how sensitive this data is to people’s lives and identities, and accordingly, the strict stipulations that the government places on the data for patient protection. A nationalized database will also be assuredly scrutinized for the amount of vulnerability it opens up with regards to security, especially as healthcare cyber-attacks have significantly increased in the last decade. Indeed, there will be many challenges in achieving this endeavor.
Without a doubt, fragmentation of healthcare data is detrimental to patient safety, care, and healthcare outcomes. Oracle certainly has its work cut out in the months ahead as it tries to navigate this path. However, the innovative vision that the company is attempting to propagate bodes well for the future of healthcare data, as this is indeed a problem that will eventually need to be resolved.