AMA’s long-term goal: Helping physicians navigate an ocean of clinical data

The American Medical Association has been busy putting out urgent legislative and regulatory fires, but according to CEO James Madara, M.D., the organization hasn’t lost sight of its long-term challenges that revolve primarily around data.

AMA has been consumed by a “waterfall of disturbing legislative healthcare proposals,” Madara said in a speech during the association’s 2017 Interim Meeting. But much of his speech focused on healthcare’s future, which he said relies primarily on the ability of physicians to squeeze meaning from rapidly growing data sets.

“Currently, we confront oceans of data, but only puddles of clinical meaning,” he said.

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Madara said the current healthcare data ecosystem is disorganized and siloed, and equated it to “the fable of the blind men touching the elephant.”

“One feels the trunk, another the tail, one the ear, and each one of the men has in his mind some different image,” he added. “That’s what health care data are today. Each of us touching data bit-by-bit, then spending time conceptualizing the elephant.”

Madara also took a thinly-veiled shot at the lack of EHR interoperability that plagues healthcare, outlining a scenario where a doctor that suspects a patient is suffering from hypertension can “effortlessly capture his blood pressure readings” from previous healthcare providers.

“I’m just kidding,” he said. “You can’t do that.”   

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But, he argued, AMA is taking steps to address those concerns through the Integrated Health Model Initiative (IHMI) aimed at building a common data-sharing structure with help from Intermountain Healthcare, Cerner, IBM, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Madara also pointed to a new Health2047 spinoff called SwitchCo Inc., designed to securely share data across the healthcare industry based on permissions. AMA in 2016 sunk $15 million into Health2047, a healthcare innovation incubator based in Silicon Valley. Madara said the new company has attracted senior leaders and engineers from GE and Intel.

Going forward, the AMA CEO said hospital and physician leaders are looking for a neutral entity to guide them through challenges that face the healthcare industry now and years down the line.

“That’s us,” he said. “We’re Switzerland.”