By Peter Do
“Big Tech”—companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple—is taking over healthcare. At least, that’s what the news headlines would have us believe. These companies and more have made huge announcements just within the past 6 months about their plans for transforming the healthcare industry. Some announcements about Big Tech in healthcare, like Amazon’s pursuit of a better healthcare system, have been shrouded in mystery. On the other hand, tech giant Apple has been upfront about their user-oriented healthcare innovations and investments.
In any case, Big Tech certainly has the resources to fund major projects to transform the products, systems, and processes healthcare professionals use every day. When the news headlines predict a healthcare invasion, it begs the question: how can doctors, practices, IPAs, and hospitals keep up?
Big Tech in healthcare: Here’s what’s changing right now
In the past few years and even the past few months, we’ve seen some big news come out of investments from Big Tech in healthcare.
- Amazon’s biggest news to date is its entry into the world of pharmaceuticals. On June 28th, Amazon acquired online pharmacy retailer PillPack for about $1 billion.
- Amazon has entered a major partnership with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway, and an overall goal to find ways to reduce healthcare costs for employees and improve patient satisfaction. Most recently, the companies announced Dr. Atul Gawande as CEO of their new health company, who was quoted as saying he’d like to “take some of the middlemen out of the [healthcare] system.”
- Amazon’s program initially aims to help improve the healthcare experience for its own employees but hopes to find ways to improve healthcare throughout the country.
- Amazon Echo, a virtual assistant smart speaker estimated to be in over 20 million homes, is being tested as a way to help patients manage conditions like diabetes and has been tested for use in hospitals and clinics—with creating checklists for surgeons, for example.
- Apple tends to focus on consumer products. The Apple Watch already doubles as a virtual healthcare assistant, allowing users to track physical activity and sleep habits. The Apple Watch may also be used to track heart rhythms in order to monitor some chronic conditions.
- Apple also provides a platform for medical research, the Apple ResearchKit, allowing app developers to launch widespread research studies through the Apple Watch and other accessories.
- Apple aims to give hospitals and doctors the ability to better communicate with patients and store health records for easy access. Apple Health Records was recently launched amongst 39 hospitals.
Alphabet (Parent Company to Google)
- From 2013 to 2017, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, filed 186 healthcare-related patents.
- Alphabet recently acquired Senosis Health, an app developer focused on using smartphone sensors as monitoring devices.
- Largely focused around data, Alphabet has backed dozens of health ventures from several angles, appearing to pursue any possible project to solidify its status as a major healthcare investor.
- For example, Alphabet’s research unit, Verily Life Sciences, has a variety of studies in place, ranging from telemedicine to an initiative that releases good mosquitoes into the environment to help eliminate disease.
- Alphabet is not alone in its healthcare-related patents; over the past 4 years, Microsoft filed 73 while Apple filed 54.
- In March, rideshare company Uber launched Uber Health to allow healthcare organizations to easily book rides for patients and clients.
- Facebook’s virtual reality device Oculus has been used in hospitals to simulate pediatric emergencies as training for doctors and medical students.
- In fact, Facebook’s role in healthcare has been projected to expand, especially regarding patient data, although no plans have been released.
Healthcare organizations should expect the unexpected
The major players in Big Tech in healthcare right now—Amazon, Google, and Apple—already have a track record of disrupting major industries like retail and telecommunications. They have the money and the resources to rock the world of healthcare, which has had few significant changes in the past 30 years aside from Obamacare.
It’s easy to feel that the world of healthcare as we know it is in jeopardy with these upcoming changes, especially with little research about the impact of these changes on individual practices, health systems, and hospitals. But many of these innovations and initiatives can only be positive in the long-term. That is, as long as hospitals and doctors are willing to work alongside these changes.
Physicians and hospitals can take advantage of changes coming to healthcare
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Big Tech in healthcare today, and it can be difficult to keep up with it all. A common fear is that patients will use new technologies to self-diagnose, or that some new medical devices could create false panic over results. Currently, though, it’s too early to say either way. Rather than dismiss these new technologies, physicians should focus on doing their due diligence. Be aware that some patients are researching or using these technologies.
Right now, companies like Apple are actively seeking involvement from health researchers and hospitals alike. In fact, several innovations from Big Tech have already been implemented within major health systems. If your technology and internal systems haven’t been updated in several years, then you’re falling behind..
Emphasize communication with patients
Many of the innovations we’re seeing from Big Tech in healthcare involve communication. Amazon, for example, hopes to create a better healthcare system overall that cuts out the middlemen. Apple hopes its devices will be used to better communicate with patients, ideally amongst several specialists.
Big Tech is tapping into something that some doctors have resisted for a long time: giving patients more access to their health information and to their doctors. Healthcare organizations everywhere can learn from Big Tech’s attempts to meet the changing needs of patients, providing better ways to communicate and access the information they need.