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Our Take: Northwell Health, New York-Presbyterian form separate partnerships to advance patient care through AI

Jul 18, 2022

Two of New York’s leading health care providers announced collaborations last week that will rely on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to improve patient care through enhanced decision-making support and predictive insights.

Northwell Health, the state’s largest health care provider, is building on a relationship it began in 2018 with Google Cloud. Since that time, the health system has been using Google Cloud products, such as Cloud Healthcare APIs and BigQuery, to increase the productivity of its physicians and other clinicians.

For example, developers on the health system’s technology team have used the tools to build a system that lets physicians and nurses instantly access the specific data they need in a patient’s electronic health record (EHR) instead of having to search through multiple tabs to find what they are looking for.

According to Northwell, gaining this kind of control over the massive amounts of patient data contained in EHRs has been a “game changer” for caregivers, giving them extra time to engage with patients and streamlining the decision-making process.

Through the new alliance between the two organizations, Google Cloud will be Northwell’s “preferred cloud platform for infrastructure modernization.” The health system said it will leverage Google Cloud to build an interoperable data platform with AI and machine learning capabilities.

Northwell intends to leverage Google’s advanced technology for better digital scheduling experiences, to automate payer interactions, and to provide “intelligent summarizations of medical information.” According to Northwell, the technology won’t just summarize information from different records — it will “[build] relationships between the information to help support the right actions at the right time.”

The health system will also use Google Cloud’s AI and machine learning capabilities to generate predictive insights it can use for operational purposes, such as capacity planning and scheduling, and for better patient outcomes (e.g., to identify risk indicators that can lead to early interventions).

“This partnership will help us deliver personalized experiences by safely and privately harnessing customers’ data to enhance care, well-being, and equity in care for our patients,” said Michael Dowling, Northwell’s CEO, in a press release.

Separately, New York-Presbyterian announced that it will provide $15 million over a three-year period to fund an initiative designed not only to improve treatment for heart failure, but also to predict and prevent heart failure.

The hospital and physicians at its affiliated medical schools — Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons — will collaborate with Cornell Tech and the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science (Cornell Bowers CIS), using AI and machine learning to examine data with the goal of detecting patterns they can use to predict who will develop heart failure. They will also use the capabilities to inform their care decisions and personalize treatments.

“AI is poised to fundamentally transform outcomes in cardiovascular health care by providing doctors with better models for diagnosis and risk prediction in heart disease,” said Kavita Bala, professor of computer science and dean of Cornell Bowers CIS.

Our Take: Health systems and hospitals have been slow to adopt the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, though we’ve noticed an uptick in the last couple of years.

It’s easy to see why they’ve hesitated.

For one thing, it’s expensive. Typically, when a health system announces a collaboration with Google or Microsoft or Amazon Web Services, the financial terms are not provided. We’re sure that’s not an oversight.

For another, look at the challenges most health care providers have had with implementing their EHR systems. EHRs were supposed to make health care delivery (and administrative processes) so much better, but in reality they changed the dynamics of the patient-physician relationship in ways that neither patients nor physicians appreciate.

But for a health system like Northwell, which has 21 hospitals, 850 outpatient facilities, and more than 12,000 affiliated physicians, harnessing the colossal amount of patient data can lead to vast improvements for physicians, nurses, patients, and the health system itself.

And when the data is used for predictive purposes, like New York-Presbyterian plans to do, the whole field of medicine stands to benefit.

Yet another reason many health systems have not embraced AI is that oftentimes leadership doesn’t really understand exactly what it is and what it can do. But this is changing, and a fair percentage of senior executives say they realize they’ll need to invest in these technologies if their organization wants to achieve its goals over the next several years.

In fact, in our ongoing interviews with health system executives, adoption of some form of AI has been one of the more frequently mentioned topics over the last year.

Incidentally, we’ll be keeping an eye on what Oracle does, now that it owns Cerner. We expect to see some impressive developments in the area of AI.

What else you need to know
Amazon is collaborating with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on a Phase I clinical trial of a personalized cancer vaccine developed to target metastatic melanoma and breast cancer. The University of Washington Cancer Consortium is also listed as a researcher for the trial on ClinicalTrials.gov. Amazon is listed as a collaborator on the  government website. A company spokesperson told CNBC that Amazon will contribute scientific and machine learning expertise, WebMD reported.

Bellin Health and Gundersen Health System are preparing to merge, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. The two health systems, based in Green Bay and La Crosse, Wis., respectively, announced on June 1 that they were “deep into discussions of a planned merger” and expected to complete a final agreement in the coming weeks. Last Monday, Becker’s reported that the two organizations “are set to complete” the merger, which will create an 11-hospital system with a presence in four states (Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa) and revenue of $2.35 billion. The plan is for the combined system, which has not been named, to maintain dual headquarters. Dr. Scott Rathgaber, Gundersen’s CEO, will serve as CEO of the new entity, and Chris Woleske, president and CEO of Bellin, will serve as executive vice president and regional president of the “northern counties.” The deal has not yet been approved by the Federal Trade Commission, but since the organizations are geographically distinct, the health systems do not anticipate any regulatory issues.

Pharmacy benefit manager Navitus Health Solutions is CivicaScript’s newest founding member. CivicaScript is the subsidiary that Civica Rx formed in January 2020 in partnership with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) and multiple independent BCBS companies to develop more affordable versions of commonly prescribed high-cost generic drugs. Since then, Anthem (now Elevance Health), Health Care Service Corp., and EmsanaRx have also become founding members, and a year ago, drug manufacturer Catalent signed on as a long-term partner. Navitus said in a press release that its partnership with CivicaScript would give consumers greater access to lower-cost medications, including the 8.7 million members Navitus serves. Navitus is owned by SSM Health and Costco Wholesale Corp.

Optum Health and Red Ventures are partnering on a consumer health care platform called RVO Health, according to several news outlets. Red Ventures owns RV Health, whose portfolio of brands includes Healthline, Healthgrades, Medical News Today, and Psych Central, among others. Optum Health is the health care provider segment of Optum, which UnitedHealth Group owns. The companies have not officially announced the joint venture, so few details of the agreement are available. Based on a Moody’s Investors Service report, Red Ventures received cash proceeds in exchange for the assets it contributed, and UnitedHealth will consolidate RVO Health financials in future financial statements. Along with RV Health’s digital brands, RVO Health also includes Optum Store, Optum Perks, and assorted virtual coaching platforms.

Merck is suing the Department of Health and Human Services in an attempt to avoid being fined for no longer providing 340B discounted products to contract pharmacies. Last year, Merck asked entities covered under the 340B program to join its integrity program and submit claims-level data for the relevant transactions. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) issued a warning letter advising Merck that it was in violation of the program’s regulations and faced potential fines. Merck is one of approximately 20 drug companies that have taken similar steps to restrict sales to contract pharmacies. Other drugmakers also have sued the federal government; some have won their cases, while others have not. HRSA is appealing the decisions that did not go in its favor.

Novavax received emergency use authorization from the FDA for its COVID-19 vaccine for individuals who are at least 18 years old. The vaccine is the first protein-based COVID-19 vaccine to be authorized in the U.S. It contains the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which in this case is produced in insect cells, the FDA noted, and the Matrix-M adjuvant, which contains saponin extracts from the bark of the Chilean soapbark tree. The vaccine is administered as a two-dose primary series, with three weeks between doses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet Tuesday to decide whether to recommend the vaccine. In the meantime, HHS, in collaboration with the Department of Defense, agreed to secure an initial 3.2 million doses of the Novavax vaccine for an undisclosed sum.

What we’re reading
How Geisinger’s refund program is faring amid patient experience crisis. Becker’s Hospital Review, 7.14.22
Could Person-Centered Care Be The Secret To Achieving The Triple Aim? Health Affairs, 7.13.22
“REACHing” for Equity — Moving from Regressive toward Progressive Value-Based Payment. NEJM, 7.14.22

What else we’re reading
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