The man against meaningful use

Frustrated by the government creating 'medical bridges to nowhere,' Patrick Soon-Shiong seeks to take healthcare into the 21st century
By Erin McCann
10:12 AM
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Patrick Soon-Shiong

Seeing as healthcare generally lags at least 10 years behind other industries in the realm of adopting technology, it takes a lot to say a health company is doing groundbreaking work. But NantHealth executives believe they've nailed it.

NantHealth, the brainchild of medical researcher, professor, surgeon and self-made billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, is a company aimed at solving the interoperability crisis and connecting the industry in the most powerful of ways – a direct response of discontent with the federal government's EHR Incentive Program.

With Chief Executive Officer Soon-Shiong at the helm, a near $1 billion investment and some of the best minds in the industry, the folks at NantHealth have built a cutting-edge, cloud-based and bi-directional clinical operating system, agnostic to any device or electronic health record.

The operating system, tied to 12,000 miles of fiber optics, is now being deployed nationwide.

[See also: MU creates 'medical bridges to nowhere'.]

The system is currently running for more than 3 million lives, 50 gigabytes day-to-day across 50 states and 150 practices, said Soon-Shiong, in an interview with Healthcare IT News this past February.  

"We've captured vital signs with a connect box that is now taking APIs to 6,000 medical devices," he added, not to mention the 3 billion vital signs they have captured in the cloud. Device connectivity is now operational at more than 250 hospitals, 120 of those being Epic sites, said NantHealth officials.

What's more, "We've built super computers that can actually take feeds of CT scans from EHRs and feed it directly to mobile devices," Soon-Shiong said.

The idea to develop this company came to him after the federal government gave the green light to the EHR Incentive Programs, allocating some $34 billion for health IT and EHRs, a decision he considered a grave misstep for the industry.

In fact, he met with President Barack Obama back in 2008 with one single plea: "Please, do not fund electronic medical record systems that will create what I call, 'medical bridges to nowhere,' and, unfortunately, they've done exactly that," Soon-Shiong said, speaking at a Clinton Foundation event this past January.

"My concern is with the way meaningful use has been set up is to capture processes," he added. "What we really need to do is capture outcomes."

So, now he has solved virtually the most difficult crisis plaguing hospital IT departments, what does this kind of platform mean for patient care?

"That's what's the most exciting thing for us," said Soon-Shiong, who cited a 2012 Institute of Medicine report finding that surgery patients see on average 27 healthcare providers during their hospitalization; medical patients typically see 18.

"There's no way today that these 27 healthcare providers have access to all the information about that patient all the time," he added. "You'd absolutely be able to get higher quality of care because of information."

There is also another element to patient care, as Soon-Shiong pointed out, and this relates to decision support. As genomics and proteomics take off and become more and more integral to a modern day diagnosis, "there's going to be a thousand facts that the doctor's going to need to even get the treatment decision right," explained Soon-Shiong. "In no way can the doctor keep up with that scientific deluge."

To solve this problem, NantHealth created a cloud-based machine-to-machine tool, which, through a dropdown menu, is linked to the patient’s diagnostics at the proteomic and genomic levels and can tell the doctor transparently what is the best care in the literature.

Soon-Shiong said this development “brought supercomputing in the palm of your hands."

Interoperability not only has been a focus of providers and – to a lesser extent – vendors, and federal lawmakers have also weighed in, proposing some suggestions of their own.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee issued a report last year, saying health information technology would be “unable to truly transform our health system unless they can easily locate and exchange health information.” Spearheaded by Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, House members said, "more must be done to bolster interoperability" nationwide.

"Adopting these standards by 2018 is reasonable and should be the highest priority for ONC," lawmakers wrote.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology seemed to agree, with its new chief Karen DeSalvo, MD, calling interoperability the "top priority for 2014" earlier this year.

"I really mean that when I said, 'medical bridges to nowhere' because I can challenge anyone, I think it's well known that if you move from one city to another city or if you move within the city, your information is not readily available," added Soon-Shiong. "Yet you can get a Netflix movie with a press of a button, so I think we need to really create different standards of measuring outcomes and measuring costs."

And in Patrick's eyes, NantHealth has accomplished just that.