iHealth: The Future of Mass Health Data
Updated: Sep 12, 2019
Big Tech and Big Health want to team up for an unprecedented project which will bring all a customers health data to one accessible place, but what can these companies bring to the table?
In January Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook boldly claimed that the iPhone maker's greatest contribution to mankind would be its health-related services. A bold claim, but one which seems to resonate with other tech companies too.
It is no secret that the healthcare situation in the U.S. lags behind other developed countries due to lack of coverage, administrative issues, and primary care shortages. However, Big Tech is looking to change this, as U.S. health spending represents a huge opportunity for them, having totaled $3.7 trillion in 2018 alone.
In July, the “Big Four”, Amazon, Apple, Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) met in Washington D.C. with representatives from some of the biggest healthcare providers in the country. Spokespeople confirmed that they had committed to helping consumers gain access to their medical claims information via cloud networks of their choosing, such as Apple’s Health app. Some of the real-world applications being tested include fraud detection and aiding consumers avoid paying erroneous bills.
Amazon has made its healthcare ambitions clear for quite some time now, including their Haven project to provide free healthcare. In 2014, they completed a deal with Cardinal Health which now sees them distributing medical supplies to providers in over 40 states. Behind the cost of labor, medical supplies are the biggest moneymaker in the medical business, and Amazon have been building their distribution expertise for 5 years now.
In June of 2018, Amazon further solidified their healthcare intentions with their Grand Challenge group working on both medical records as well as cancer research. Amazon’s ambitions were helped further with their acquisition of PillPack, which gives them mail-order licences in all 50 states and is compatible with Medicare plans. This move would allow the e-commerce giant to expand quickly in healthcare by disrupting the $560 billion pharmaceutical industry.
With over 100 million Amazon Prime members, experience and a successful cloud computing network with Amazon Web Services, Amazon could well be a driving force behind this Big Tech move into the health sector.
With Apple increasing their services spending and moving away from retail, Healthcare has become a viable and profitable route. Apple cut a substantial slice of the healthcare pie for themselves when they secured one of the FDA’s nine coveted spots in the Digital Health Software Precertification Program. Apple were approved to this program as the FDA saw the importance of digital health and were impressed by Apple’s robustness and quality control protocols, which made them ideal for pioneering healthcare innovation.
The outcome of this membership has seen Apple move in on developing blood pressure monitors for their Apple Watch, as well as delving into the possibility of diabetes management through a contactless means of sampling blood. In 2017, Apple successfully partnered with Stanford Medicine to also use the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensors to help track life threatening heart conditions.
Other examples of Apple using its products to track diseases include using the iPhone X for vision tests, a hearing test feature in its AirPods, as well as a speech recognition tool to detect speech impediments associated with stroke. The Apple Health app allows customers to successfully store medical data on their phone, which is the basis behind the new proposed partnership with other firms.
Google’s healthcare ambitions coincide perfectly with that of the proposed new team up with Big Health. With an aging population comes more and more data. Google’s ambitions lie in the use of structured data and A.I. (artificial intelligence) on the basis that about a third of the world’s data is generated by the healthcare industry. Google’s advanced AI and machine learning sector can position the company as an innovation leader when it comes to healthcare.
Google has already established collaborations with doctors both in the U.S. and abroad, developing algorithms that can diagnose diabetic retinopathy in images at a level of accuracy likened to that of board-certified ophthalmologists. This is one of their larger on-hand projects, while they also worked with several major Universities in America through Google’s life sciences division Verily to establish a baseline of health data, with help from 10,000 participants.
Verily has taken on risks for health insurance customers in the past, and their new data driven solution is designed to cut healthcare costs for customers. Google has really stepped up their health drive in recent years, filing no fewer than 186 health related patents in 4 years spanning 2013-2017, more than Apple and Microsoft combined. Google’s vast data collection and advanced A.I. work will be pivotal in getting any potential health service off the ground.
A little bit later to the game than its “Big Four” counterparts, Microsoft opened up a health department in its Cambridge research lab in 2017. Their areas of focus centers around A.I., machine intelligence and cloud computing, which will all be needed if the Big Tech collaboration is to take place.
Like Google, Microsoft is also hedging its bets on an A.I. driven healthcare in the future, filing 73 related patents in 4 years and significant investment placed in their foremost healthcare initiative, Healthcare NExT. With the discontinuation of Microsoft’s Health Dashboard site as well as Wearables, Microsoft is hoping to woo healthcare clients with an advanced cloud service and has ramped up its services.
Windows is already the most popular operating system in hospitals with Microsoft Azure experiencing higher growth than Amazon Web Service last year in this regard. This systems familiarity among healthcare staff may go a long way for Microsoft in the event of a team-up.
It is clear from looking at these four massive firms, that the future would indeed be bright if they were to collaborate on a project that would be for the betterment of the average consumer.
Each brings a unique strength to the table, such as Apple’s design, Microsoft’s foothold in healthcare, Google’s data collection and Amazon’s distribution. Combined, the sky's the limit, and hopefully healthcare providers will see it the same way.
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