Oracle’s healthcare ambitions cloudy

Larry Ellison gets patient-centered at CloudWorld 2022.
22 October 2022

“oracle” by (nz)dave is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Big tech’s focus on the healthcare industry and the newest medical technology was highlighted by Larry Olsen’s keynote speech at Oracle CloudWorld recently, where the CEO announced his company’s plans to focus on “patient-centric” healthcare technologies.

Motives behind large technology companies’ moves into medical-related technology by acquisition certain vary. Amazon’s eating up of One Medical last year was, in all likelihood, a data-based [sic] acquisition, allowing the global company an even better scoping of its customers’ lives, thoughts, activities, and now, health matters.

Oracle’s motives in purchasing Cerner for nearly $30bn (the company’s biggest acquisition since NetSuite, a paltry $6.5bn back in the day) revolve around patient records and the company’s vision for a unified, US-wide medical records database. Ubiquitous canonical patient health records will certainly be lucrative in a fractured market where insurers, hospitals, and clinicians mesh together in an unholy alliance of capitalism and well-being. Every player in the market will be required to buy access from a single provider if they want to get the information they need quickly.

But there’s also value in medical records themselves. Properly anonymized data describing multiple healthcare events throughout a patient’s life is worth paying gold for by big pharma, research groups, clinicians’ organizations, insurance companies, and many more. As a body of information combined with peripheral data already held by, for instance, a patient’s local hospital, the value of the whole increases, too. Details of disease, prognosis, treatment choices, and so on can be added to financial information on healthcare plans, insurance data, and other personal details to produce highly attractive “customer” (or patient) personas.

Newest medical technology

Oracle’s eventual outcomes from its purchase of Cerner are part of its moves that Ellison was keen to highlight at the CloudWorld event, which included a healthcare-focused version of Oracle Fusion Cloud Supply Chain & Manufacturing, which is designed around a product key data management structure that has a single patient as the identifier for various electronic records. Additionally, another lengthily-titled platform, Oracle Fusion Cloud Enterprise Performance Management, has benefited from health-focused algorithms designed to model future demand on care facilities (think everything from hospital bed management to the viability of construction projects for new hospital wings or buildings). It may not be the newest medical technology, but it does come with the “big tech” stamp on it.

Ellison’s keynote and other announcements at the CloudWorld event also reinforced Oracle’s position as a provider of platform-independent applications and services that already run happily on the main hyperscalers. And as ever, there were now oft-repeated comparisons between the costs of Oracle’s own cloud provision (Oracle Cloud) against their competitors, especially AWS.

One can see how the perfect dream might come about: a population expecting to live longer with a better quality of life has its medical records held in Oracle applications hosted on Oracle clouds. These people will be, we assume, unaware or perhaps uncaring that their highly personal information is being hawked to interested parties who are vetted to the extent of whether or not the purchaser has a checkbook.

However, the fly in the ointment may well be in the form of Cerner. British readers may have heard of the company as the “guiding light” behind the multi-billion dollar (or rather, pounds sterling) failure to produce an integrated patient record system [PDF] for the National Health Service a few years ago. The losers in that instance, apart from the NHS’s patients, of course, and in many cases of Cerner’s work since were the UK taxpayers. Citizens then paid for an IT system that turned out to be vaporware and the company’s record since has been less than shining. Ellison must be hoping to make some personnel changes in his acquisition, as shareholders tend to be less forgiving than taxpayers.