Will America’s tech giants be instrumental in carrying the healthcare sector into a technology-powered future? If we take recent industry developments as indicators, the answer appears to be a resounding yes.


In early December of last year, the healthcare information services provider Cerner announced its intent to collaborate with Amazon Web Services (AWS). The news came during AWS’ re:Invent conference in Las Vegas and outlined three primary goals — to lower readmission rates for patients, reduce financial waste, and lighten the administrative burden on doctors.


According to a recent press release, Cerner plans to accomplish its objectives by using machine learning to analyze the de-identified patient data the company stores on the AWS Cloud. Cerner reports that in doing so, it can gain better insights into what causes return hospitalizations and thereby give providers the resources they need to make informed treatment decisions and limit readmissions. 


In a blog on the subject, representatives for Cerner wrote that: “by applying machine learning to historical data migrated to the AWS Cloud, Cerner created a model that helped the health care system reach the lowest readmission rate in more than a decade and sent more patients directly from rehabilitation to their homes.”


But decreased rates of readmission isn’t the partnership’s only achievement. During his speech to the re:Invent Conference, Cerner CEO Brent Shafer noted that the collaboration allowed Cerner to decrease the administrative burden that providers handle — a burden which, as research has amply demonstrated, often contributes to provider burnout. 


“Working with AWS will allow us to capture doctor-patient interaction and integrate it directly into the electronic workflow of the physician,” Shafer shared. “This new advancement will help doctors and providers spend less time filling out forms and more quality time with their patients.” 


Frankly, these steps towards digitally-facilitated, machine-learning-powered advancement in healthcare are to be expected. After all, the partnership between Cerner and Amazon is not new; in fact, news of the collaboration first came to light last summer, when Cerner announced that it would designate AWS as its preferred cloud provider. The two hoped that by pursuing a closer partnership, they would be able to better apply Amazon’s AI and machine learning tech to Cerner’s efforts to both advance patient health outcomes and lower operation burdens for healthcare organizations. 


In a way, the Cerner/AWS collaboration is a microcosm of a much broader effort to redefine healthcare practices within a technology-powered framework. Multiple tech companies have made identical moves with other healthcare players; Google, for example, forged a 10-year strategic partnership with the Mayo Clinic, hoping to boost innovation through the use of the latter’s cloud platform. Microsoft and Humana made a similar (albeit slightly shorter) contract to use Microsoft’s cloud and artificial intelligence capabilities to support Humana’s clients and provider groups. 


Though different in their details, all of these collaborations have the same underlying goal: to create a cohesive suite of technology solutions that can support healthcare providers without running afoul of interoperability concerns. According to a recent Stoltenberg Consulting survey of over 300 health IT professionals, a lack of healthcare interoperability was the most significant operational concern that healthcare organizations faced in 2019. However, it was not the only problem at hand — other major issues included high administrative costs and EHR burnout and overly-heavy reporting burdens. 


Companies like Cerner and Humana hope that by forging partnerships with tech giants, they will be able to produce a cohesive, effective, and replicable system that will spark a new era for health system interoperability, capability, and efficiency. Cerner’s recent successes in lowering patient readmissions is a small (if significant) step towards that objective. However, the real victory will come over the next decade, when healthcare organizations finally develop a standard for a data-driven, digitally-supported, interoperable care system. 


It will be interesting to see who crosses the finish line first.