Oracle Is Acquiring One of the Largest Health Records Providers — What Could Go Wrong?

Oracle Is Acquiring One of the Largest Health Records Providers — What Could Go Wrong?
(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

So many political thrillers — especially the really conspiracy-minded ones from the ’70s — seem to start out with some large corporation getting in bed with the federal government and all hell ensuing.

That could be why the news that software giant Oracle is set to acquire Cerner, a company with 40 years of history in medical records, sounds like the setup for a movie where Charlton Heston or Ned Beatty discovers that trouble is afoot. (Coming to theaters Christmas 1974: The Omicron Variant!)

CNBC reports:

Enterprise software giant Oracle will buy electronic medical records company Cerner in an all-cash deal for $95 per share, or approximately $28.3 billion in equity value.

The deal, expected to close in calendar year 2022, could help Oracle boost its presence in health care by bringing troves of health data to its cloud services.

“Cerner has been a leader in helping digitize medical care and now it’s time to realize the real promise of that work with the care delivery tools that get information to the right caregivers at the right time,” said president and CEO David Feinberg in the company’s press release.

But there’s information that you don’t see in the CNBC article or the Cerner press release, and it’s the kind of stuff that would get our intrepid protagonist in the ’70s conspiracy theory movie going.

You see, in addition to taking over a company that has its hands in the data of millions of healthcare consumers, Oracle is the company overseeing the U.S. COVID-19 vaccination program.

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Nope, there’s no conspiracy-mongering here. Oracle touts its vaccine work on its website.

Oracle’s National EHR system enables our public health officials to have access to up to the minute data as to how many people have been vaccinated in New York City or Palo Alto, or anywhere in the U.S. This real-time nationwide view of COVID-19 healthcare data is not possible with our existing fragmented provider based EHR [electronic health records] systems.

Oracle claims their technology makes it easy for vaccine recipients to report their side effects.

The Oracle Public Health Management System makes it easy for every person who receives a COVID-19 vaccination to use a smartphone or a computer to report side effects, such as injection site pain or a headache. That means every patient receiving a COVID-19 vaccine can directly communicate with healthcare professionals who will track all vaccine side effects and adverse events for the first days, weeks, and months after injection. Collecting this safety data will help medical professionals better understand how different patients respond to different vaccines—and the system will notify a physician in the rare event of a patient exhibiting a serious adverse reaction to a vaccine.

It gets better. Oracle manages a National EHR Cloud System with all sorts of COVID data at its fingertips.

Every day, public health policymakers study graphs and visualizations to understand the state of the global pandemic. They need a reliable central data source. The Centers for Disease Control uses Oracle National EHR Cloud as a central data repository for US vaccination data. Anonymized data—where all patient names and identifiers have been removed to protect patient privacy—is used for analysis and reporting by authorized agencies and organizations.

The company is even working with “dozens of countries about how to modernize their national public health infrastructure and enable efficient vaccine distribution, therapeutic monitoring, and diagnostic testing,” using Oracle products, of course.

Look, I’m no conspiracy theorist, but nothing good can come from one company having access to the health data of millions of Americans — not to mention data from other nations. A company like Oracle having so much control over so much sensitive information is one data breach away from all that data falling into the wrong hands.

Don’t laugh. It’s happened before.

BlueKai, an Oracle product, has perfected the art of tracking consumers’ online behavior. Their servers hold insane amounts of data about what people like you and me do online. And they left it unsecured at one point.

As Tech Crunch reported last year:

But for a time, that web tracking data was spilling out onto the open internet because a server was left unsecured and without a password, exposing billions of records for anyone to find.

Security researcher Anurag Sen found the database and reported his finding to Oracle through an intermediary — Roi Carthy, chief executive at cybersecurity firm Hudson Rock and former TechCrunch reporter.

TechCrunch reviewed the data shared by Sen and found names, home addresses, email addresses and other identifiable data in the database. The data also revealed sensitive users’ web browsing activity — from purchases to newsletter unsubscribes.

So vaccine information or other health data exposed to anyone who knows what to look for isn’t too far out of the realm of possibility.

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Let’s also not forget that bureaucrats can’t resist having as much information about constituents as they can. What if someone in the federal government wanted to take the Oracle database and compare it to a census list to see who’s been vaxxed and who hasn’t? (Because even though the data is anonymized for the end user, you know that names and other info are there somewhere.)

We’ve seen this pandemic bring about the most illiberal tendencies of the American bureaucratic system, so the last thing we need is for one company with so much control over our data partnering with the federal government.

If that doesn’t sound like the stuff of tense thrillers, nothing does.

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