Amazon is offering a new software that can mine medical records for information, the Wall Street Journal reports. The software can reportedly scan digitized patient records and pull out data, a service that healthcare professionals can use when considering treatments and hospitals can use to cut costs. "We're able to completely, automatically look inside medical language and identify patient details with incredibly high accuracy," Matt Wood, general manager of artificial intelligence at Amazon Web Services, told the Wall Street Journal. Amazon used deep learning to train its software to analyze medical records. And according to Taha Kass-Hout, former chief health informatics officer for the FDA who was hired by Amazon earlier this year, the software performed as well as or better than similar programs.
When ex-FDA chief health informatics officer Taha Kass-Hout joined Amazon as its senior leader in healthcare and AI, some saw his appointment as proof the retailing behemoth could be dealing with regulatory issues or zeroing in on digital health. Amazon has remained largely mum about its overall designs in the space, though a solidifying foray into pharmaceutical delivery with PillPack and a troika with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to lower healthcare costs raise the veil somewhat. Amazon's health IT efforts are a bit more clear. The company wrapped up 2018 with an expansion of its HIPAA-eligible AI services and the introduction of Amazon Comprehend Medical, a service that can process reams of electronic patient records for needed data. Kass-Hout sat down at HIMSS to talk with Healthcare Dive about his role at Amazon, its suite of web, cloud and AI services and the perennial issues in the sector.
But in a rare interview during a health conference, one of its senior leaders hinted at some areas of focus for the e-commerce giant. Taha Kass-Hout, the former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief health informatics officer who joined Amazon in March, didn't reveal any trade secrets in the interview with the health website Stat, but indicated that Amazon sees big potential in developing AI tools for health. "AI is medicine is not a new concept," Kass-Hout said, explaining that the earliest uses of the technology in health dates to the 1960s when it was first used to navigate patients to the right place. He noted that the past year has seen a massive uptick in research papers that use "prediction and natural language understanding" in a variety of new ways. Despite that, he also cautioned that AI tools have been overhyped.
Ever since Amazon turned its gaze to healthcare, questions about the eCommerce operator's plans and intentions have outnumbered answers. That's still true, and may remain so for the time being, but this week new details emerged that, at the least, is shedding light on Amazon's healthcare vision. Here's the scoop, courtesy of court testimony: Amazon wants to, in the words of The Wall Street Journal, "redesign health insurance." And that's only one possible aim -- others involve using artificial intelligence to improve diagnoses and the overall patient experience, but we'll get to that in a bit. Among the biggest ongoing mysteries for even the most sophisticated Amazon watchers is the specific purpose of the independent healthcare company that includes Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, a venture that was announced last year.
Amazon has extended a grant valued at $2 million to Harvard Medical School so researchers can experiment with machine learning and AI to streamline clinical workflow, Bloomberg reported March 4. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center started purchasing Amazon's cloud services in 2016 in an effort to ensure the hospital's data remained safe and accessible in the case of an emergency, according to Bloomberg. Three years later, Amazon's Web Services unit is working with Beth Israel to make day-to-day tasks like patient scheduling and finding paperwork more cost-effective and efficient. It's well-known that scientists hope to leverage AI and machine learning for better-quality care and quicker, more accurate diagnoses, but Taha Kass-Hout, the senior leader for healthcare and AI at Amazon, said Beth Israel will first focus on alleviating time-consuming manual work so physicians and their staff can better focus on quality.