Patient data lives in multiple silos—the pharmacy record, the home healthcare visit, the specialist’s recommendations, the electronic medical record at the local hospital. One provider often doesn’t have the latest update from another, and it’s frequently up to the patient to connect the dots.
These disconnected data points make it hard for doctors to see the full pictures and for patients to get coordinated care. At best, this problem is annoying and at worst it can be life-threatening.
Humana is taking on this problem by modernizing its data management architecture. The goal is to make sure everyone in the healthcare world is working from the same and most up-to-date information. The health insurance company is using event streaming technology to turn data silos into one merged data stream.
To do this, Humana turned to Confluent, a company using Apache Kafka to create a new way of managing a company’s data. Jay Kreps, Neha Narkhede, and Jun Rao created Apache Kafka while they were at LinkedIn. They left the networking platform to launch Confluent to use Kafka to create a “central nervous system” for managing corporate data. The idea was to bring the real-time data management used by tech companies like Netflix and Uber to other industries.
This means seeing actions–such as a sale or a customer service interaction–as an event and using the data from that event to power real-time recommendations, decisions, or related actions.
Dan Rosanova, head of product management for Confluent Cloud, said every company is expected to have this level of data management sophistication, which requires a new kind of data infrastructure. Instead of manually combining information from databases from sales, customer service, and fulfillment, companies can use Kafka to create an ongoing feed of everything that is happening in a company.
“A salesperson could set an alert to get an alert any time a customer has more than three support tickets within a week and is above some threshold of spend,” he said.
Managing events in a stream creates three new capabilities:
- The ability to build onramps and offramps from the main stream
- The ability to create custom views of the same stream of data
- The ability to capture events and rerun them at a later date
Rosanova said that one common application for this replay functionality is in fraud detection. When a security team develops a new model, they could rerun every transaction for the last 30 days to see if the new model catches fraudulent transactions.
Rosanova said that cloud computing is the other key element of the Confluent platform.
“Without the cloud, the complexity is really high, and normal companies don’t have all of the computer science talent to support that,” he said. “The cloud democratizes this.”
Although healthcare companies were not the initial customers for this kind of database management, there is a lot of potential to manage complex event processing, such as drug interactions during clinical trials or patients receiving care from multiple specialists.
The Kafka interface also provides onramps and offramps for data from the stream to share information with customers, partners, or third parties. This capability could make interoperability a reality for the healthcare industry, which has struggled to share data across physician offices, hospitals, and insurance companies.
“There are a million point-to-point connections in healthcare, which are like surface streets in a downtown,” Rosanova said. “The data stream is the highway.”
A cloud infrastructure also limits the amount of tech work that hospitals and health insurance companies have to do.
“If I’m getting a feed from providers, and I have to produce a feed for pharmacies, I can focus on connecting them,” he said. “Healthcare organizations can’t do greenfield development because they have to deal with the structures they already have.”
Using event streaming at Humana
Levi Bailey, the associate vice president of cloud architecture at Humana, said that adopting an event streaming model was part of the company’s larger shift to using Azure. Bailey said that Humana is changing the way it manages information to improve interoperability in the industry.
“We sit in the middle of all this information, and when providers share data with each other, it has to come back to us in some shape or form,” he said. “When we looked at this, we knew we needed a platform approach.”