Amazon Web Services' Dr. Shez Partovi on tech giant's healthcare outlook: 'This is a pivotal moment' for innovation

Amazon Web Services is working with several healthcare partners to rapidly adopt and support technologies ranging from telehealth to interoperability solutions in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shez Partovi, MD, director of worldwide business development for healthcare, life sciences and genomics at AWS, told Becker's Hospital Review that since the pandemic began, health system customers are asking for increased support in areas including cloud adoption, data interoperability and machine learning.

"The pandemic has accelerated cloud adoption in the healthcare industry," Dr. Partovi said. "We are seeing our customers ask for support in several areas, so they innovate to better serve their patients."

These areas have included expanding telehealth capabilities at Columbia, Md.-based MedStar Health System and powering artificial intelligence imaging solutions for UC San Diego Health radiologists to better differentiate between COVID-19 patients who need hospital-based care and those who can be monitored from home.

Prior to joining Amazon in November 2018, Dr. Partovi served as chief digital officer and senior vice president of digital transformation at San Francisco-based Dignity Health.

Here, Dr. Partovi discusses AWS' tech-based work with customers and shifting outlook on the healthcare industry in response to the pandemic.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.  

Question: How has Amazon Web Services' outlook on healthcare changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Dr. Shez Partovi: This is a pivotal moment in time where the healthcare industry has a unique opportunity to identify partnerships, work collaboratively and accelerate innovation to address the challenges of the pandemic and the industry more broadly. We have seen healthcare customers embrace the agility offered by AWS services to respond and adapt to the challenging conditions brought about by COVID-19 and continue to identify new ways to provide better care at scale and save more lives. AWS will continue to support our employees and customers, aiding community relief and furthering research during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: What is AWS' No. 1 priority for its healthcare business in the year ahead? 

SP: Our No. 1 priority has and always will be supporting our customers, including those that are advancing the global COVID-19 response. For example, Columbia, Md.-based MedStar Health quickly scaled telehealth solutions amid the pandemic with support from AWS. A month after the outbreak started, MedStar providers were delivering an average of more than 3,500 outpatient telehealth sessions every weekday. The health system also launched two call centers — one for providers and one for patients waiting on COVID‑19 lab results — in less than a week using Amazon Connect, an AWS solution that helps customers deploy cloud-based call centers.

In addition, to quickly detect pneumonia and better distinguish between COVID-19 patients likely to need more supportive care in the hospital and those who could be followed closely at home — UC San Diego Health radiologists and other physicians are now using artificial intelligence enabled by AWS to augment lung imaging analysis in a clinical research study.

And to lessen the strain on New York City's overburdened hospital emergency departments and intensive care units, leaders from social services, healthcare and tech organizations came together in March to create the NYC COVID-19 Rapid Response Coalition. AIRnyc, MetroPlusHealth, AWS, and a pro bono team from Bain & Company worked iteratively to design and deploy an AI-based SMS chatbot that reached out to 10,000 patients a day, connecting them to clinical and social resources, as needed.

Q: How do you think COVID-19 will change healthcare delivery, and what can health systems do to prepare? 

SP: The pandemic has accelerated cloud adoption in the healthcare industry. We are seeing our customers ask for support in several areas, so they innovate to better serve their patients. COVID-19 has also validated the immense value of data and interoperability. We are seeing health systems continue to lean in and explore how they can eliminate data silos more broadly, as they have done with COVID-19-related data. For example, COVID-19 has solidified the value of telehealth and AI-based chatbots in delivering remote care. Customers like MedStar reached 3,500+ weekly telehealth visits and UW Medicine in Seattle used an AI-based chatbot to manage the surge of patient requests at the height of the outbreak in Washington.

Machine learning is also helping researchers and practitioners analyze large volumes of data to forecast the spread of COVID-19 to act as an early warning system for future pandemics and to identify vulnerable populations. For example, researchers at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub in California have built a model to estimate the number of COVID-19 infections that go undetected and the consequences for public health, analyzing 12 regions across the globe.

Q: What opportunities or tech areas is AWS excited about or interested in pursuing within the healthcare space?

SP: Ninety percent of what we build is driven by what customers tell us, and the other 10 percent are things we hear from customers where they may not articulate exactly what they want, but we try to read between the lines and invent on their behalf. What excites us is seeing how our healthcare and life sciences customers are using AWS to accelerate precision health to improve the lives of individuals everywhere. We see customers such as Grail use a single drop of blood to screen for many cancers at once by performing complex genomic analysis using AWS services.

Similarly, in the field of precision diagnostics, companies including GE Healthcare are diagnosing lung disease on chest X-rays using their Edison platform, which is powered by AWS machine learning. At the other end of the spectrum, we see tremendous advances in precision therapeutics from customers such as AbCellera and Moderna. AbCellera is using AWS computer vision on AWS to look inside cells of patients that have recovered from COVID-19 to find that one ideal antibody that can be used to create a medicine to combat the novel coronavirus. Moderna is a born-in-the cloud biotech company that is able to use genomics as a way to create a treatment specific to one single individual. We are thrilled to be enabling these types of organizations and others as they bring precision medicine to the forefront with the goal of using tech to help save more lives.   

More articles on digital transformation:
University Hospital to deploy mobile medical facilities to areas experiencing disease outbreaks
NewYork-Presbyterian crafts walkie-talkie and app-based program to foster communication between coronavirus patients, families 
Missouri U researchers using pencils to draw biomedical monitoring devices on patients' skin

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