This content is part of the Conference Coverage: HIMSS 2019 news, trends and analysis

EHR vendors face competition from IBM, Amazon and others

IBM and Amazon have introduced new services targeting the healthcare industry. Traditional EHR companies will have to adapt or innovate if they want to fend off obsolescence.

The EHR market has not seen significant growth in recent years due to the fact that over 96% of all nonfederal acute care hospitals have adopted certified health IT. This means very few healthcare organizations will be in the market to purchase a new EHR, making it more difficult for vendors to sell their EHR since the cost and pains of replacing an existing system can be high.

For most well-established EHR vendors like Allscripts, Epic and eClinicalWorks, their client bases are likely not considering switching or seeking major changes to their EHR investments. But things may soon change with new AI-based services introduced by IBM and Amazon that will provide offerings traditional EHR vendors fall somewhat short on.

IBM was one of the early tech giants to penetrate the healthcare industry by introducing Watson to hospitals as a tool that can help detect some illnesses and assist in diagnosing certain conditions. The company was able to utilize its support computers and AI capabilities to analyze large data sets and identify certain insights from patient data. IBM has also branched off into analyzing medical images and using its vision services to detect abnormalities from X-rays, MRIs and other scans that the human eye is not able to detect.

Amazon is also making waves in the healthcare tech space with its recent announcement of a new service called Amazon Comprehend Medical that will target healthcare organizations and the analysis of their EHR data. The HIPAA-compliant offering is a machine learning service that can process unstructured data -- such as notes and prescriptions -- and identify information such as patient diagnoses, dosages, symptoms and treatments. Most health data is unstructured, and being able to identify pertinent information with the help of machine learning can expedite the process and reduce errors.

IBM and Amazon are certainly not alone in the list of giant companies looking to invest in healthcare. For example, Apple and Walmart are recognizing that increased U.S. healthcare spending, which reached $3.5 trillion dollars last year, offers great opportunities for them if they can find a way to tap into it. Traditional EHR vendors may need to consider partnerships with these giants or try to innovate in the AI space if they want to compete with some of the bigger players in the tech field.

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