Salesforce unwraps platform for post-EHR world

The cloud-based software vendor is driving toward what it calls 'precision healthcare,' not to be confused with precision medicine
By Tom Sullivan
08:00 AM
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Essentially confirming months of rumors about its intentions to plant a flag in the healthcare market, Salesforce.com has unveiled Health Cloud.

The software-as-a-service suite features what the company calls "patient relationship management" tools – which are technologically distinct from today's crop of electronic health record systems.

"We think we are among the pioneers in the post-EHR world," Salesforce chief medical officer Joshua Newman, MD, told Healthcare IT News ahead of the launch. "We think about this as precision healthcare."

By releasing Health Cloud, Salesforce is joining the growing crop of platforms that offer more comprehensive views of patient data than electronic health records, though today's class of products doing that each take a different tack.

Precision healthcare?

Anyone paying attention knows two things about precision medicine right now. First, it's a grand vision everyone hopes comes to fruition, for patients' sake. Second, despite President Obama's much-touted backing with the Precision Medicine Initiative, that won't happen anytime soon, at least not on a wide scale.

Not to be confused with precision medicine – which strives to incorporate genomics, bioinformatics and other cutting-edge uses of data to tailor individually-specific treatment regiments – what Newman calls precision healthcare is about "managing patients and not records," he said. 

[See also: What healthcare providers need to know now about Windows 10.]

As such Health Cloud integrates data from a variety of sources, including EHRs, medical devices and wearables, among others, that care coordinators and clinicians can view in a modern social network-style dashboard interface.

Notable features include Timeline, which enables providers to see the patient's health journey, and the Patient Caregiver Map, which helps clinicians track relationships in the patient's household and with doctors and specialists.

Health Cloud's Today function, meanwhile, can alert care coordinators to events such as medication refills or missed appointments and Salesforce Chatter lets caregivers see all internal conversations. Private Patient Communities, meanwhile, help care teams collaborate with each other as well as patients across a variety of devices including tablets and smartphones.

Not alone

While Salesforce's claim to be a pioneer in the post-EHR world could at some point prove true, it is but one among many making that proclamation.

A cadre of vendors, ranging from 3M Health Information Systems to emerging companies such as Practice Unite and TapCloud – as well as care coordination specialists CareSync, Circle Link Health, Kryptiq, MD Revolution and Smart Link – are working on new ways to tie patients together with care teams.

Then there are Salesforce's traditional rivals Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

Microsoft, in conjunction with Caradigm, Intel and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to commercialize a tablet app that overlays EHRs and other data sources, while SAP and Oracle each offer tools to integrate clinical, genomics and lifestyle data. 

The common theme: Providing a comprehensive view of patient data in a way that EHRs simply cannot.

External and internal disruption

Salesforce and its ilk are not looking to compete head-on with EHR vendors but, instead, are girding to offer a new generation of software.

Pulling information from multiple apps, smart devices, wearables and other sources – whether for population health or precision medicine purposes – is inevitably going to bring a certain degree of disruption to healthcare. As will the onslaught of vendors gunning for customers, technology titans and upstarts alike.

Newman noted that Salesforce did not simply wake up one day and decide it wanted a nice slice of the $3 trillion healthcare pie. Rather, it and other IT vendors have been working to bring something to market. 

Salesforce, until now, lacked a product specifically engineered for hospitals and health systems, Newman explained, adding that the name Health Cloud denotes the new service ranks in Salesforce's highest level of products. 

"The point here is we're disrupting ourselves," Newman explained. "We've always been horizontal, and now we're focusing on verticals. One of those is healthcare."

And that is the culmination of months of rumor and speculation that Salesforce would soon be setting its sites on health systems and networks. R

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