Amazon Dives into Health

Amazon confirmed on Tuesday that it’s launched a project to mine data from electronic medical records, as the company pushes deeper into the health-care market.

Coinciding with the Amazon Web Services reinvent conference in Las Vegas this week, the company introduced Amazon Comprehend Medical, which “allows developers to process unstructured medical text and identify information such as patient diagnosis, treatments, dosages, symptoms and signs, and more,” according to a blog post.

The announcement follows a CNBC report in June that Amazon had spent several years working on an effort, internally dubbed Hera, to make better use of digitized medical data, capturing information that a physician may miss and helping remove inaccuracies. At that time, Amazon was targeting insurance companies as potential customers, pitching them on a product that could fill in gaps in data when doctors neglect to fully document a patient’s medical visit.

In addition, Amazon is eyeing greater sales of medical supplies through an app, embedded in electronic medical records, that doctors can use to send links to products that patients would buy, according to people who developed the app and doctors who have used it. The $3.2 trillion health-care market is a natural target for tech companies seeking new sources of growth, especially as more patient medical records get digitized and pressure rises to provide better health care at lower cost.

Health care trailed other data-heavy industries, including retail and banking, in converting critical information to computers from paper. Electronic health records are now a standard feature in most hospitals, but that wasn’t the case a decade ago. Hospitals rushed to install digital records after Congress included incentives for the technology as part of federal spending to speed economic recovery from the last recession. More than 80% of hospitals have electronic health records, up from about 10% in 2008.

Amazon officials said the company’s software developers trained the system using a process known as deep learning to recognize all the ways a doctor might record notes. “We’re able to completely, automatically look inside medical language and identify patient details,” including diagnoses, treatments, dosage and strengths, “with incredibly high accuracy,” said Matt Wood, general manager of artificial intelligence at Amazon Web Services.

 

Todd “Bubba” Horwitz