Preventing a repeat of the COVID crisis - Oracle's Larry Ellison on the "unprecedented" responsibilities in healthcare

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan December 14, 2022
Prevention is better than cure. Oracle's planning to work with entire countries to detect future pandemic threats before they reach crisis point.

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Since its $28.3 billion purchase of Cerner closed earlier this year, Oracle has outlined a number of its goals for the healthcare vertical, with Chairman and CTO Larry Ellison outlining the company’s plans back in July:

Better information is the key to transforming healthcare. Better information will allow doctors to deliver better patient outcomes. Better information will allow public health officials to develop much better public health policy. And better information will fundamentally lower health work healthcare costs.

During this week’s post-earnings call with analysts, another layer to his ambitions was dropped into the conversation - and this one’s on a grand scale with the aim of getting ahead of the threat of future pandemic outbreaks and avoiding a repetition of the COVID crisis. He said:

We want to automate hospitals and clinics and doctors' offices and do that. We certainly want to automate providers. But we're layering on top of that is we want to do national public health. We are doing national public health systems.

Oracle’s already engaging with companies to pursue this end, with Ellison citing UK gene sequencing specialist Oxford Nanopore as a case in point, describing its work as “an early warning system to detect the next pathogen that could lead to a pandemic”. He said:

[It] is moving from AWS to OCI (Oracle Cloud Infrastructure) where they are going to store gene sequencing, but not only just store gene sequences in OCI - they also do analytics to figure out if what they’ve sequenced is a new version of COVID-19 or another pathogen, if the pathogen [is one] they’ve never seen before, an extremely important application for world health.


But Oracle’s intentions here go beyond commercial relationships with companies. Ellison said:

These global public health systems need to be built. We are in discussions with, not companies, but countries about building and deploying global early warning systems, so we can detect the next pathogen that threatens to turn into a pandemic.

We can catch it early enough that we can prevent it from being a pandemic. God forbid there is another pandemic, that we have up-to-the-minute, up-to-the-second data about how the country's infrastructure is managing the hospitalization rates and vaccination rates and all of those things, so we can better deploy and manage our resources during a pandemic, so that we don't have a repeat of the things that went on during COVID-19.

Oracle CEO Safra Catz has been visiting some prospective customers that are countries, he revealed:

We will be signing contracts with a number of countries to build these national systems. And these contracts are enormous, I mean, absolutely enormous, and there will be several of them. So, the scale of this healthcare opportunity is unprecedented, but so are the responsibilities that go along with it. We, as humanity, have to do a better job of delivering healthcare to people than we have done historically.

And we can never have a repeat of the COVID-19 pandemic. I think there is this worldwide sense of urgency and national consciousness about getting a new generation of systems out there that help us, at first, prevent and then manage our healthcare, prevent a pandemic and better manage our healthcare systems.

As far as I know, Oracle is the only company in the world that's trying to address this issue and we're about to sign up a number of countries that will work with us on doing just that.

My take

It’s an incredibly bold vision, but then again as I noted back in July, healthcare is a topic that Ellison is fired up about:

Basic message - you never underestimate Larry Ellison. So when he declares he’s on mission to overhaul healthcare, I’m more than ready to believe him.

There were lots of tech companies that played an important role in getting us through the worst of the COVID pandemic - I’m still not prepared to declare it over, I’m afraid - and they deserve plaudits for doing so. Check out diginomica’s dedicated coverage and analysis of the tech response here.

But on the basis that prevention is always better than cure, it would be hugely encouraging to see the focus shift from managing a crisis to ensuring that we don’t end up facing such a crisis again. I’ve no faith in governments learning from the past few years. We can already see a massive scaling back of COVID-related processes and practices - and expenditure - at both local and national levels around the world. So, let’s see business step up to the mark.

As I’ve said all along, what Oracle’s planning around healthcare is going to be one of the biggest stories of the next few years.

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