Health Tech

Hot off its Cerner acquisition, Oracle is developing a national health records database

Two days after it completed its $28.4 billion acquisition of Cerner, Oracle announced plans to build a national, anonymized health information management system.

Oracle completed its $28.4 billion acquisition of Cerner on Tuesday, prompting many to wonder what healthcare plans the tech giant could have up its sleeve after buying the No. 2 EHR vendor.

Larry Ellison, the company’s board chairman and chief technology officer, shared answers Thursday during Oracle’s The Future of Healthcare broadcast, revealing that the company is developing a national, anonymized health records database. 

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The project aims to address a gripe health tech experts have been expressing for a decade: how the fragmentation of health data prevents caregivers from obtaining the information they need to provide effective treatment. Since hospitals and health systems must buy and operate their own health data management systems, they are unable to seamlessly exchange patient information with one another. Government efforts through interoperability regulation is one way to address. But Oracle, ironically, is aiming to overturn EHRs’ hospital-centric approach for a more patient-centric one, Ellison said.

“We’re going to solve this problem by putting a unified national health reference database on top of all of these thousands of separate hospital databases,” he said. “We’re building a system where all American citizens’ health records not only exist at the hospital level, but they also are in a unified national health records database.”

Building this anonymized universal patient record for all Americans will presumably involve access to patient information sitting on Cerner’s competing EHR systems, but Ellison did not address this issue. However, he noted that this was a lofty vision that may not be achieved in short order.

The national database will update patient information instantly so that clinicians are ensured access to a patient’s most up-to-date information and public health officials can monitor trends in real time. Data privacy will be a priority, though, Ellison assured. Oracle’s database will anonymize all patient data, and patients must consent to their information being shared in order for doctors and public health officials to know who the health records belong to.

Oracle’s new health records database will also involve the patient engagement system the company has been developing throughout the pandemic. The federal government was the first to use the system, as it allowed some of the first Americans getting vaccinated against Covid-19 to share their experiences with national leaders.

The “most interesting thing” about the pilot of Oracle’s patient engagement system was that it collected the information that proved it was safe to vaccinate pregnant women against Covid-19, Ellison said. 

Some of the people who shared their vaccination experiences with the federal government were pregnant when they received their shots, though they did not know it. The data they shared showed that pregnant women did not face any more adverse reactions than the general population. Based on this data, U.S. regulators were able to declare that it is safe for pregnant women to get vaccinated, even though they didn’t have data on pregnant women’s vaccinations from Pfizer or Moderna, two of the first companies to develop Covid vaccines.

Oracle is now working on the patient engagement system’s ability to collect information from wearables and home diagnostic devices. Once those capabilities are built, the system will create a two-way channel so that a patient’s vitals can be instantly communicated and their doctor can quickly respond with medication or care plan alterations, Ellison said.

Inspired by the insights the patient engagement system provided to the government, Ellison said the incorporation of wearables will advance clinical research even further by allowing more people to participate in trials.

“You don’t have to be in Boston or New York or LA to be in a clinical trial,” he said. “You can be at a rural hospital and share this information with your doctors and the people who are running the clinical trial. So it gives us a much more diverse population in clinical trials.”

Ellison declared that Oracle and Cerner’s combined technology has the potential to revolutionize the way health data is stored and exchanged in the U.S. By centralizing all Americans’ health records in one place and advancing patients’ engagement in their health maintenance, he said Oracle is giving healthcare professionals the tools needed to create better health outcomes. 

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

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