Amazon reportedly plans to start selling software that can read medical records and make suggestions for improving treatment or saving money, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The program scans medical files to pick out relevant information such as the medical condition and patient’s procedures and prescriptions. While other algorithms that try to do the same thing have been stymied by doctors’ abbreviations, Amazon claims to have trained its system to recognize the idiosyncrasies in how doctors take notes, sources told the WSJ. The company had already developed and sold this same software to other businesses, including ones focused on travel booking and customer service. For Amazon, this is another move into the health care market on the heels of the retailer buying the online pharmacy PillPack in June.
Amazon is just the latest technology company to make a play into health care. Last year, Microsoft launched a new health care division that plans to focus on using artificial intelligence to improve patient care. Earlier this month, Apple partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans with access to their electronic records on the iPhone. It has long been positioning its Apple Watch as a health device instead of a fitness device, partnering with Stanford University to run a heart-health study and even incorporating an FDA-cleared electrocardiogram (EKG) function into the latest version of the wearable tech.
Of course, not all efforts have been successful. Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences, just paused its high-profile program to create a smart contact that can detect glucose from tears.
Given that Amazon already had the text-analysis technology, expanding into the health care market makes sense for the corporate giant. But the area of electronic health records is famously contentious. Though there has been a push to digitize medical records, the tangled evolution of e-health technology has, for many patients, led to a fragmented paper trail filled with gaps. In the recent, evocatively titled New Yorker article “Why Doctors Hate Their Computers,” physician Atul Gawande writes about how doctors are frustrated with the entire process, and observes that the various software systems for health records seem to have helped lead to burnout.
Hopefully Amazon’s entry into the electronic health records space will help treat the problem, and not increase the existing pain.