Oracle Cloud Vision: Reaches for a Slice of the $13 Trillion Health Care Market

Oracle announced its acquisition of Cerner—what could this mean for the future of cloud-based digital health care?

Even before the pandemic, people were becoming frustrated with the health care system’s often long wait times and general inefficiency. Unfortunately, despite patients experiencing less face-to-face time with physicians, doctor visits are becoming longer thanks to changing documentation and billing practices. A recent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that for every one hour of time that physicians spend with a patient, they spend an additional one to two hours completing electronic health records (EHRs) and other documentation. This represents an incredible bottleneck in modern health care and further exacerbates patient wait times.

An overview of the capabilities of Cerner’s EHR across health care institutions. (Image courtesy of Cerner.)

An overview of the capabilities of Cerner’s EHR across health care institutions. (Image courtesy of Cerner.)

Many technology companies are looking to fill the void when it comes to modernizing health care services, reducing wait times and even improving patient care with advanced data analytics. Yet, despite the ongoing adoption of electronic tools to support everything from documentation to patient care, no technology giant has emerged as a clear leader in the health care space.

To make a bid for the top spot, Oracle recently announced its acquisition of Cerner, a global health care IT company. Oracle­ plans to use its expertise in cloud computing and database management to expand Cerner’s services and improve EHR modernization and patient care.

“Working together, Cerner and Oracle have the capacity to transform healthcare delivery by providing medical professionals with better information—enabling them to make better treatment decisions resulting in better patient outcomes,” said Larry Ellison, chairman and chief technology officer at Oracle.

With Cerner, Oracle Plans to Expand Its Reach in Digital Health Care

Cerner has already established itself within digital health, with over 40 years of experience helping to modernize EHRs. The company’s programs are used by some of the largest hospital systems across the U.S. and around the world. Along with its digital records platform, Cerner also offers interoperability and analytics solutions for health care applications.

In late December, Oracle announced the acquisition of this health care company and technology in its $28.3 billion deal with Cerner.

NHS Improves Patient Care Using Oracle Cloud.

“With this acquisition, Oracle’s corporate mission expands to assume the responsibility to provide our overworked medical professionals with a new generation of easier-to-use digital tools that enable access to information via a hands-free voice interface to secure cloud applications. This new generation of medical information systems promises to lower the administrative workload burdening our medical professionals, improve patient privacy and outcomes, and lower overall healthcare costs,” said Ellison.

In October 2021, the former vice president of Google Health, David Feinberg, became the chief executive officer of Cerner. Part of his strategic vision is to help health care realize the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. The appointment of Feinberg also highlights Cerner’s interest in expanding beyond EHR modernization and furthering its advanced data analytics offerings. To Oracle, Cerner will bring its EHR data system, programs for tracking emergency departments and hospital occupancy, as well as health care workflow tools. Cerner already has an API that can transfer EHR data to AI applications.

“Cerner has been a leader in helping digitize medical care and now it’s time to realize the real promise of that work with the care delivery tools that get information to the right caregivers at the right time,” said Feinberg. “Joining Oracle as a dedicated Industry Business Unit provides an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate our work modernizing electronic health records (EHR), improving the caregiver experience, and enabling more connected, high-quality and efficient patient care.”

The acquisition of Cerner could shift business away from some of Oracle’s biggest competitors as some Cerner applications will be easy to expand upon as they are already running on Oracle platforms.

“Oracle’s Autonomous Database, low-code development tools, and Voice Digital Assistant user interface enables us to rapidly modernize Cerner’s systems and move them to our Gen2 Cloud,” said Mike Sicilia, executive vice president, Vertical Industries, Oracle. “This can be done very quickly because Cerner’s largest business and most important clinical system already runs on the Oracle Database. No change required there. What will change is the user interface. We will make Cerner’s systems much easier to learn and use by making Oracle’s hands-free Voice Digital Assistant the primary interface to Cerner’s clinical systems. This will allow medical professionals to spend less time typing on computer keyboards and more time caring for patients.”

Prior to the acquisition, Oracle’s solutions serviced some of the biggest health care clients in the world, including the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Cerner will now become a dedicated industry business unit within Oracle to help expand the company’s existing suite of health care solutions.

Oracle Among Other Tech Giants Looks to Dominate Digital Health Care

Oracle is not alone in its interest in expanding into digital health care. Microsoft is already expanding its cloud computing expertise into health care applications. In April 2021, the company announced they would spend $19.7 billion to acquire conversational AI company Nuance Communications, with plans to use the company’s speech recognition expertise to support physician decision-making and digital record-keeping. According to Nuance, 55 percent of physicians in the U.S. already use the software to transcribe their speech into written clinical notes.

Oracle was named the leader in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud ERP for Product-Centric Enterprises. (Image courtesy of Gartner.)

Oracle was named the leader in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud ERP for Product-Centric Enterprises. (Image courtesy of Gartner.)

Beyond Oracle and Microsoft, other tech giants are trying to vie for a slice of the global health care market. Technology companies working on health care-related projects include Google Health, IBM Watson Health, and Amazon Care.

In August, Oracle was recognized as the leader in the 2021 Gartner “Magic Quadrant” for Cloud ERP for Product-Centric Enterprises. With Oracle’s acquisition of Cerner, the company may be betting on the health care IT company’s head start to pave the way to its leadership in the digital health industry.

With Oracle, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and others competing in the health care cloud computing niche, Oracle may be looking to stand out from the crowd by incorporating Cerner’s expertise and client-based systems.

Data Silos and Outdated Systems Are Holding Back Health Care; Will Oracle Fill the Void?

Health care provides a textbook example of the main issue with data silos. Over the past few decades, when it came to transitioning to EHRs, many health care facilities have opted to make their own IT systems or partner with companies ranging from start-ups to large software enterprises. Unfortunately, this means that patient medical records are hosted on a range of platforms in the U.S. and Canada, making it difficult to share data between facilities. Separate systems also hinder collaboration between health care institutions that cannot reliably share data and other medical-related information. With a mix of electronic and paper records and on-premises and cloud-based solutions, interoperability remains a key goal of most national health systems.

Oracle may be looking to meet the interoperability goal with its Cerner acquisition. A secure, cloud-based platform could improve the interoperability of health care systems and facilitate data sharing between institutions. Oracle can provide the scale that Cerner currently lacks to make the digital health care revolution a reality.

After several years spent establishing itself in the cloud computing ecosystem, Oracle may be looking to differentiate its expertise and reap the benefits of health care dominance. As the acquisition has only just been announced, we will need to wait and see exactly how Oracle integrates Cerner into its offerings and expands within private and public health care institutions.

What else could be in store with the new partnership? Perhaps natural language processing (NLP) enabled, automatic EHR documentation during patient visits? New AI-driven software to support clinician decision-making? We look to 2022 and beyond to witness Oracle’s bid as a health care IT giant.