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Sorting through and analyzing medical records is incredibly time-consuming, limiting the ability of patients, doctors and administrators to make connections and fully grasp data.

But technology giant Amazon is hoping to make that process much easier with Amazon Comprehend Medical, a new machine learning service that uses natural language processing to decode the information in unstructured writing like medical records or even doctor’s notes.

Unveiled Tuesday during Amazon Web Services’ re:Invent conference, Amazon Comprehend Medical has already been tested with partners including Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Roche Diagnostics.

According to a blog post by AWS, the program can “identify medical conditions, anatomic terms, medications, details of medical tests, treatments and procedures” in a variety of documents. A user simply enters the unstructured text into Comprehend Medical, which then “reads” the text and extracts relevant medical terms as well as patient health information.

AWS Re:Invent is the cloud computing division’s annual conference. AWS is regularly Amazon’s most profitable division. (GeekWire Photo / Tom Krazit)

At Fred Hutch, the program was used to identify patients for clinical trials that may benefit from specific therapies. Normally this process is done by hand. Matthew Trunnell, Fred Hutch’s chief information officer, said in the blog post that the program moved the processing time from hours to minutes.

“Time is the most valuable resource in cancer,” Fred Hutch told GeekWire in a statement. “Fred Hutch is utilizing technology that allows us to spend more time doing breakthrough research. Eliminating cancer and related diseases requires an open and collaborative approach across industries and disciplines which is why Fred Hutch is partnering with companies like Amazon Web Services to increase our research capabilities and gather insights that allow us to get cures to patients faster.”

But the tool isn’t necessarily for healthcare providers or researchers: The blog post also puts an emphasis on consumer empowerment, pointing out that better insight into medical data could help healthcare consumers make more informed health decisions.

The move by Amazon is an interesting step in the company’s entry into healthcare. Just this year, it acquired prescription drug delivery company PillPack and started a joint venture with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to tackle healthcare costs.

But Comprehend Medical may be the biggest homegrown healthcare service in the company’s history, and it relies on Amazon’s prowess in artificial intelligence and cloud technology. That may be a valuable clue as to Amazon’s future ambitions in the field.

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