4 min read

Yesterday, at the AWS re:Invent conference, Amazon announced the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) eligible software, Amazon Comprehend Medical.

Amazon Comprehend Medical is a natural language processing service that uses machine learning to extract relevant medical records of patients from unstructured text. With this software, one can gather information, such as medical condition, medication, strength, dosage, and frequency from a variety of sources like clinical trial reports, doctors’ notes, and patient health records.

This extracted medical information can be used to build applications for clinical decision support, revenue cycle management, and clinical trial management. Comprehend Medical follows the ‘pay for how much you use strategy’ and doesn’t charge any minimum fees. Also, the developers need to only provide unstructured medical text to Comprehend Medical and they don’t have to deal with servers to manage them. It also identifies protected health information (PHI), such as name, age, and medical record number. One can use this information to create applications that securely process, maintain, and transmit PHI.

Benefits of Amazon Comprehend Medical

Machine learning helps in accurately identifying the medical information

Amazon Comprehend Medical uses advanced machine learning models for accurately identifying the medical information, such as medical conditions and medications. It also identifies their relationship to each other, for instance, prescribes the medicine dosage and strength for a better cure. One can access Amazon Comprehend Medical easily through a simple API call, without the need for machine learning expertise, complicated rules, and training models.

Secures patient’s data

Amazon Comprehend Medical identifies protected health information (PHI) stored in medical record systems while keeping up to the standards for General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Comprehend Medical helps the developers to implement data privacy and security solutions by extracting relevant patient identifiers as per HIPAA’s Safe Harbor method of de-identification. Also, it does not store or save any customer data,so users need not worry.

Lowers medical document processing costs

Comprehend Medical automates and lowers the cost for coding the unstructured medical text from patient records, billing, and clinical indexing. It also offers two APIs that developers can integrate into the existing workflows and applications with only a few lines of code. This would cost less than a penny for every 100 characters of analyzed text.

A reinvention of cancer care

The team at Amazon is also working with Seattle’s own Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to support their goals to eradicate cancer. Amazon Comprehend Medical helps in identifying patients for clinical trials who may benefit from specific cancer therapies.

“Amazon Comprehend Medical will reduce this time burden from hours per record to seconds. This is a vital step toward getting researchers rapid access to the information they need when they need it so they can find actionable insights to advance lifesaving therapies for patients,” said Matthew Trunnell, Chief Information Officer, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

What about Privacy then?

This looks like a good move by Amazon but people are questioning the technology used by Amazon. Why is only ML/NLP used to analyze data? There is a lot of unstructured data available in EMRs including pharmacy, lab, eMAR, etc, well what about them? The efforts still by Amazon still aren’t enough to convince many.

A user commented on Hacker News, “I work in the tech healthcare industry. I wonder why they only went with (or focused on?) ML/NLP text analysis to analyze data. There is a wealth of discrete data available in EMRs (pharmacy, lab, eMAR, etc.). Yes, there is plenty of diagnosis text but that is almost always associated with ICD10 codes. The only area where I believe text analysis would be useful is documentation and microbiology data, and in many cases micro is discrete as well.”

Though Amazon Comprehend Medical is matching the standard of GDPR, people are still skeptical about the possibility of patient data being misused. Just five months ago, Amazon took over PillPack, a pharmacy for $1 Billion. Is the idea to use the hospitals next? If yes, then possibly the data of the patients might get endangered for few billions. Amazon could also use the medical data of the patients for its own advertising. Also, the users upload their health records on the Amazon cloud service and run the software there to analyze the data. The text then gets analyzed and the result is in the format of a spreadsheet. Any sort of security attack might cause trouble as there is a chance of data breach.

Though Amazon Comprehend Medical is HIPAA eligible, it is not compliant. It could sometimes be inaccurate as it might not always meet the requirements for de-identification of protected health information under HIPAA.

To know more about this news, check Amazon’s official blog post.

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