Apple, Amazon, Google, IBM, and Salesforce are collaborating to create a standard for healthcare data. While standards would greatly facilitate analysis, there are more than 2000 exabytes of healthcare data generated annually. It is probably not a coincidence that these groups are leading this initiative, because they are among the few companies that would be in a position to process data on this scale. If we believe that the world will be a better place with better data, we should applaud this effort. On the other hand, I’m not sure why I would want Salesforce analyzing my medical data.
It will be quite interesting to see where this goes.
The digitization of millions of electronic healthcare records for analysis by outside vendors is already happening today. The Ascension health system, second largest in the United States, is working with Google to analyze more than 50 million patient records. The records have not been anonymized, nor has permission been sought from the clearly identifiable patients and doctors. The goal is to use artificial intelligence to analyze the data and ultimately produce superior care algorithms. Though the arrangement may be legal under existing law, it raises serious questions about privacy and ownership of one’s personal information.
Electronic healthcare record (EHR) systems remain incredibly expensive, yet many don't connect to the office next door or to the hospital across the parking lot, much less across cities and states. Examples of these costs abound. The Department of Veterans Affairs will contract with Cerner to upgrade its EHR at a cost of $16 billion over 10 years. A northern California health system spent $300 million to develop their own EHR. It didn't work, so they started over. It took another billion dollars, and the better part of a decade, before they indeed had a very good EHR.
This gives you a sense of one of the fundamental problems with today’s EHRs. Why does every system, every hospital, every doctor need to design and build their own EHR? It's like each community having to design and build its own cars. And then there is the issue of data breaches. The average healthcare data breach now costs $6.5 million in penalties and remediation. It’s mandatory to report a breach to Health and Human Services (HHS). Only 300 breaches a year have been reported. How many do we think there really are? Probably many thousands. This is a very serious problem.