Cerner senior exec: Amazon cloud partnership is driving Cerner's shift to become digital platform company

Cerner CEO Brent Shafer giving keynote speech on a stage
Cerner CEO Brent Shafer speaks at a Cerner Health Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, last year. (Cerner)

As part of a new deal with Amazon, Cerner is letting users of Amazon's new Halo fitness tracker share wearable data directly with their providers. It's just one example of how the health IT company is expanding beyond its traditional medical records business as part of a broader strategic partnership with Amazon.

A year ago, Cerner announced a collaboration with Amazon's cloud business, Amazon Web Services (AWS). Cerner plans to tap into Amazon's expertise in customer experience and its artificial intelligence capabilities to drive future growth for its health IT business.

The tie-up with Amazon includes migrating many of the health IT company's solutions to the public cloud.

But, more broadly, it's also driving Cerner's strategic shift from being an EHR-centric company to a digital platform organization, according to Dan Devers, Cerner's senior vice president of cloud strategy.

"Moving forward, I think Cerner will look more like a health platform company and less like an EHR company. As you play out the trend in healthcare, I see Cerner very much operating at the health network level, so beyond the enterprise of a single health system. Given the power of the cloud and the work we’re doing, I see Cerner having much more relevance into broader networks and providing nationwide capabilities," Devers told Fierce Healthcare in a recent interview.

For Amazon, the collaboration provides a foothold in the healthcare industry at significant scale. 

Cerner, which had $5.7 billion in annual revenue last year, commands about 26% of the electronic health record (EHR) market, and its products are used in more than 27,000 facilities around the world. During Cerner's second-quarter earnings call in July, Cerner CEO Brent Shafer said the company's healthcare operations and data platforms business was on pace for 30% growth in 2020.

RELATED: Cerner's expanding partnership with Amazon will be key to its 2020 growth strategy

Devers, who has worked at Cerner for 12 years, spoke with Fierce Healthcare about how the company is tapping into Amazon's cloud and AI expertise and possible tie-ups with Amazon's other healthcare businesses, such as Haven and PillPack.

Fierce Healthcare: Why did Cerner want to partner with Amazon Web Services?

Dan Devers: First and foremost, healthcare as an industry has the ability to be transformed by the use of the cloud like other industries. That was our central proposition. Public cloud will enable us to create value for our clients, as it has played out in other industries.

If you look at things like the ability to speed up innovation, we are leveraging these public cloud services to get innovations out to our clients more rapidly. But, ultimately, what drew us to AWS was their market leadership and the way they are viewed in the healthcare industry around stability, security, privacy and reliability.

RELATED: Cerner taps Amazon Web Services to ramp up healthcare AI capabilities, predictive technology

FH: How are you working with AWS to leverage cloud computing and machine learning to enhance your technology capabilities?

DD:  We identified that we really need an ecosystem that will allow Cerner and our clients to do machine learning and data science at scale. We worked on this ecosystem together to address several needs. One, it creates a reliable, reproducible pipeline to create models. It also meets the need for common data management to take the machine learning models and infuse it in clinical workflows.

During the pandemic, we worked with AWS to stand up our cloud-based Command Center dashboard to help healthcare providers better track critical resources such as bed utilization and ICU occupancy with real-time data. That dashboard uses predictive models to help health systems identify where they would need to deploy staff and resources next.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for health system operations capabilities, We’ve seen additional demand from health systems around telehealth, and that has accelerated our cloud strategy to rapidly spin up and scale a service in a manner that you couldn’t operate on your own hardware. Health systems are seeing the value of Cerner hosting their platform or AWS hosting their platform to get them out of that business and let them focus on providing care.

FH: How is Cerner ramping up its healthcare AI capabilities and predictive technology tools?

DD: The most prominent example of the work we're doing with AWS around AI is our virtual medical scribe that leverages Amazon Transcribe Medical. That is not a digital dictation solution. What we're developing is seen as the holy grail—understanding the interaction between provider and patient just by listening to that interaction and identifying concepts that are relevant in that back and forth. Then take those concepts and have a clinical understanding to pre-populate the EHRs. That's an opportunity to bring time back to clinicians so they spend more time with patients and less in the EHRs. 

We’re also leveraging AWS as part of our consumer framework to enable Cerner to plug in third-party capabilities. We want to build that experience that consumers demand, that experience that they have on iOS or Android apps and that they now expect when digitally interacting with healthcare providers.

The opportunity to really improve the experiences of not only clinicians but also consumers is tremendously exciting. Healthcare has not done the best job of creating consumer experiences.

RELATED: Cerner, Amazon Web Services partner on new cloud-based cognitive health platform

FH: How will your partnership tie in with Amazon's other work in healthcare such as Haven, its healthcare company formed with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway, and its PillPack online pharmacy?

DD: As part of this strategic collaboration agreement between Amazon, AWS and Cerner, we will have visibility to opportunities across their organizations. We're considering a number of different initiatives with each other. We are looking broadly across a number of various health initiatives that AWS and Amazon are involved in.

We are really evaluating all the opportunities where it makes sense to collaborate with Amazon, and there are products in numerous phases of this process.

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