Humana and Microsoft want to use Azure to convert electronic medical records from “doctors only” into something a patient could use.

Humana will use Azure to move its patient records into the cloud. This will allow the insurance company to use more advanced data analytics to look for trends in the data and to create a “longitudinal patient record.”

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Instead of disconnected files scattered throughout the healthcare system, this new health record could track the multiple factors that influence health and make timely care suggestions.

Heather Cox, chief of digital health and analytics at Humana,
said the overall goal to use machine learning at scale to make the healthcare system more connected and better at delivering care.

Cox said the partnership has three goals:

  1. Modernizing Humana’s tech platforms by moving applications to the cloud

  2. Aggregating EHR data in the cloud to allow advanced analytics to drive the agenda

  3. Building new products and services in collaboration with Microsoft

As part of this partnership, Microsoft also announced Azure API for FHIR will be available to all Azure customers. First announced in February, this cloud-based service allows companies to to ingest and manage healthcare data in the native Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) format. FHIR is a standard for health care data exchange.

Cox and Greg Moore, MD, PhD, the corporate vice president of health technology and alliances at Microsoft, used the annual flu shot as an example of how the partnership will change the patient experience. Instead of relying on an individual to take the initiative to get a shot, Humana will take the lead in making sure this preventive care gets delivered.

“Currently, the person has to figure out where to get a shot, are they eligible, have they had reactions in the past–there are lots of barriers and friction,” Moore said.

This new Azure-powered platform would provide the individual with all this information automatically.

“Now, we will be able to say, ‘Here are the dates and times where we are offering the shots near you, here is the cost, now click here to schedule,'” Cox said. “We have all the patient information ready to go so there is no paperwork and the information will feed right back to the primary care physician.”

The following year, the system will push the information back to the patient with a reminder to get the shot again.

“This will help us truly modernize and become a digital company,” Cox said.

Humana has also been addressing the social determinants of health–everything outside the doctor’s office that influences a person’s health, such as income, education, transportation, and access to food. The longitudinal health record will include this additional data, which has traditionally not been collected or monitored by health insurance companies.

Moore said the country has reached the tipping point for interoperability in healthcare.

“If I think about it, we should be able to answer the question, ‘Who is over age 50 and is BRCA1 positive and hasn’t had a screening mammogram?'” Moore said. “Those are difficult answers to find right now but a longitudinal record will make that possible.”

A unified patient data set also could help doctors and patients avoid duplicated or unnecessary care, which is a big driver of healthcare costs. In a multiyear study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Humana found that nearly 25% of America’s annual health-care spending can be deemed as waste–between $760 billion and $935 billion each year.

Cox said Humana has been advocating for improved interoperability in Washington, D.C., and beyond for many years. “The consumer owns the data, not us, and they need to be able to carry it with them,” she said. “Data needs to flow freely to deliver outcomes.”

Catching up to Optum

Humana is the fifth largest health insurance company

in the country, with 14 million members and $53.7 billion in revenue in 2018. UnitedHealth Group is at the top of the list with 49.5 million members and $201 billion in revenue for the same year.

The Microsoft/Humana project is similar to the data analysis and care recommendations that UnitedHealth’s Optum offers. Optum combines patient data from insurance claims, pharmacy benefits, rehab sessions, hospitals stays and other sources across the healthcare system. OptumIQ analyzes this data make recommendations about health insurance benefits, hospital operations, pharmacy benefits and care coordination. In Q3 2019 financial results, UnitedHealth just announced that Optum reported revenue of $28.8 billion, up 13.3% year over year.

Humana and Microsoft are planning a seven-year collaboration to advance Humana’s focus on value-based care. This investment will include direct funding, dedicated R&D teams and specific co-developed projects.

Humana and Microsoft announced a seven-year partnership to move Humana’s data into the cloud and use machine learning to improve healthcare.
Image: Humana