DIGITAL HEALTH BRIEFING: Amazon job posting raises more healthcare speculation — Change Healthcare acquires NDSC — Venture funds' interest in AI grows

Laurie Beaver

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AN AMAZON JOB POSTING IS RAISING MORE HEALTHCARE SPECULATION: Amazon’s new job posting for a HIPAA Compliance Lead with IT experience and exposure to software development and auditing is adding fuel to speculation that the company is planning to move into the storage and use of personal health data, according to GeekWire. The exact implications of the new position are unclear, however, HIPAA laws regulate patient data privacy. Coupled with software development and auditing experience, the position could be related to the development of healthcare-related skills for Amazon’s intelligent voice assistant, Alexa.  

Increasing Alexa’s healthcare footprint is a logical step for Amazon, as it continues to expand the scope of its voice assistant. Healthcare is one way the company could further entrench Alexa in consumers’ lives. Around 80% of internet users have searched for health-related issues online, according to a Pew study. One scenario might see Alexa reminding patients with chronic illnesses to take their medication or measuring vital signs. In the US, chronic diseases and the health risk behaviors that cause them account for most health care costs, according to the CDC. By 2025, US healthcare spending will account for nearly 25% of GDP.

Amazon could also be planning to deploy Alexa as a clinical decision support (CDS) resource for medical staff.  The virtual assistant could be used to retrieve patient files and electronic health records for medical staff. This could save physicians and clinical staff time when they’re looking for specific patient files and information, such as allergies to medications, giving them more time to spend with the patient. Having a team lead who is fluent in HIPAA compliance would be an important step in this direction.

Amazon’s interest in the healthcare space has been heating up for some time and the company recently made inroads on three fronts.

  • The company bought licenses in several US states that allow it to ship medical equipment. It’s possible Amazon views shipping devices and supplies as the path of least resistance as it dips its toes in the lucrative, yet highly regulated, pharmaceutical industry.
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS), the company’s cloud business, partnered with healthcare tech giant Cerna in November 2017 to help medical providers use their data to make effective health predictions.
  • Amazon also launched the Alexa Diabetes Challenge, which had third-party companies develop Alexa skills aimed at helping people with diabetes manage their condition.

CHANGE HEALTHCARE STRENGTHENS PORTFOLIO WITH NEW ACQUISITION: Change Healthcare, one of the largest independent healthcare technology companies in the US, has acquired National Decision Support Company (NDSC), a provider of cloud-based medical guideline solutions. As a result of this acquisition, Change will get access to a number of medical guideline tools under NDSC's CareSelect platform, which will help strengthen the firm's evidence-based medicine offerings. These tools include:

  • CareSelect Imaging: Through an exclusive digital distribution license with the American College of Radiology, CareSelect offers evidence-based clinical guidelines solutions for diagnostic imaging.  The solution, which is integrated into a provider's electronic medical record (EMR), helps users meet the federal mandate requiring that clinicians consult Appropriate Use Criteria (AUC) for imaging by offering the most appropriate test options or clinical pathways. 
  • CareSelect Choosing Wisely: Through the CareSelect Choosing Wisely offering, CareSelect delivers enterprise-wide clinical guidelines that have been authored by medical societies, as part of the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation (ABIM)’s Choosing Wisely initiative. These guidelines cover a variety of diagnostic tests and treatments, including procedures, blood test, and medications. 
  • CareSelect Lab: Based on a partnership with the Mayo Clinic, the CareSelect Lab is a decision-support tool that integrates into electronic health records (EHR) and aggregates clinical knowledge around a menu of routine conditions to offer best-practice recommendations. 

AI WAS A MAJOR FOCUS OF VENTURE HEALTH FUNDING IN 2017: Global venture funding for healthcare technology companies saw a significant increase in 2017, climbing 42% year-over-year (YoY) to reach $7.2 billion from $5.1 billion in 2016, according to Mercom Capital Group data cited by Healthcare IT News. Analytics, which includes AI and data analytics, led the way with $1.1 billion in funding, representative of industry trends. Healthcare providers have historically had access to troves of patient data, and with the introduction of new technologies such as fitness trackers and mobile health apps, this supply of data is only growing. However, up until recently parsing this data into meaningful and actionable insights has been time-consuming and expensive. Closing this disconnect is expected to lead to major advancements in improving patient care, strengthening operations, and reducing healthcare-related costs. As a result, companies are flocking to introduce their own analytics solutions and traditional firms are investing heavily. 

Healthcare funding

BI Intelligence

SMART THERMOMETERS PROVIDE INSIGHT INTO FLU SEASON TRENDS: Smart thermometer company Kinsa is using data from connected thermometers to detect the prevalence of fevers in the US and track the spread of the flu around the country, according to the New York Times. Kinsa offers a variety of oral and ear thermometers that connect to a user’s smartphone and upload readings to a website or app, so they can track temperature readings. The company is able to monitor this data — after it’s anonymized to protect the privacy of users — to track spikes in the number of people with fevers in specific areas, which can indicate the spread of the flu. It's important to note, however, that Kinsa isn't able to differentiate between the flu and other illnesses that cause fevers. Kinsa is working with a number of experts who are analyzing the data collected since its thermometers launched in 2014 to gauge how effectively it’s capturing the spread of the flu virus. This type of connected home health technology could provide quick insight into the spread of illnesses and help public health officials allocate anti-influenza medications like Tamiflu, which are in limited supply, for example.

BI Intelligence research analyst Peter Newman contributed to this briefing.

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