"If you zoom out into the future and you look back and ask the question, 'What was Apple's greatest contribution to mankind?' It will be about health." - Tim Cook, Apple CEO
For a company that is renowned for revolutionizing the technology space, it was a clear indicator of where their focus is. This was not surprising, as Apple had already incorporated multiple healthcare applications into their products; rather, it was a sign of a larger trend of Big Tech companies venturing into the healthcare space. It is undeniable that the two sectors are invariably converging, and the effects of this convergence will have a dramatic impact by improving our ability to treat patients and identify novel therapeutic options. For the Big Tech companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon, this intersection is seemingly an untapped opportunity.
Hear what our Principal, Richard Durante, says about the impact of Big Tech on Healthcare.
When ZoomRx asked physicians on what they anticipated out of Big Tech entry into healthcare, their reactions were optimistic.
So, what have these technology companies done so far, and what are they looking to do?
Successes of Big Tech Companies in Healthcare so far
Looking at the positives, Apple has found success with its wearables, like the Apple Watch, and has begun to make entries in the remote health monitoring space. For example, it recently received FDA clearance for the electrocardiogram function on the Apple Watch. It is also moving towards a place where it can gather and integrate information from its various devices, ultimately making that information accessible to the patient and their physicians. For this, they have also been recently working with Cerner, which is the second largest EMR system provider, to do this.
Elsewhere, Amazon has also tried to enter the market over the past four or five years. They are trying to tap into what they do best, distribution, by attempting to disrupt the supply chain by obtaining licenses to sell medications in most states. Amazon Pharmacy is now serving medications in all the 50 states and is accepting most insurance plans too. Google, on the other hand, is leveraging its expertise in AI to develop different types of software that help with the diagnostic process. For example, it has developed a dermatology app in which patients can take pictures from different angles of skin lesions they may have, and the app will subsequently provide them with a list of potential related conditions. This then enables the patient to learn more information about those conditions within the app as well as involve their physician on a treatment plan moving forward.
Failures of Big Tech Companies in Healthcare so far
However, there have also been some notable failures from Big Tech in healthcare as well. Microsoft tried and failed to start a personal health records business called Microsoft HealthVault, which ended up closing in 2019 because of a lack of demand. Apple faces some problems of its own as they try to develop and acquire primary care clinics that are solely owned by Apple, employing its own physicians, but there has been mixed success. In a similar way, Amazon experienced frustrations with Haven, which was its collaborative effort with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway to provide healthcare services to its employees. That collaboration fell apart, and they've gone in a different direction with Amazon Care instead.
Challenges for Big Tech Companies
These failures are emanating from key challenges that Big Tech companies face. There are two primary arguments for why these Big Tech companies have yet to hit their stride:
- Healthcare is a highly regulated sector due to its dealings with personal, sensitive information.
- Big Tech companies have somewhat struggled, both from an organizational design and from a branding perspective, to figure out how best to take charge of this market.
Ultimately, there is a steep learning curve for Big Tech companies entering this new space, and the same values that led to success in technology, including software and hardware, may not necessarily translate to healthcare.
Despite these barriers, there is evidence to suggest that Big Tech is beginning to figure out how to navigate these issues more recently. Google has recently gone from having a unified health vision to having health units dispersed throughout different parts of the organization. With Google Health, Google Cloud and Verily, they are now pursuing different strategies for specific goals with respect to healthcare, as opposed to pursuing a unified strategy. Through the Google Cloud division, using their Care Studio software, they have also developed a tool that will help physicians organize electronic health records efficiently and help with the administrative aspect, which is an area that physicians may not be overly inclined on doing. Through this, they are still able to play a crucial role in this sector and lay the foundations for them to play an even bigger role in the future.
Physicians' optimism of Big Tech's Impact on Healthcare
Physicians believe that the involvement of these companies will lead to lower costs and improved access for patients while others believe that the impact will be limited to those who can afford the products.
Two primary areas that MDs believe Tech companies will contribute significantly to are:
- Access to patients: With the increasing presence of Big Tech in the healthcare sector, there will be a dramatic impact on the accessibility of healthcare. Physicians believe the novel technology & reduced complexity will pave way for lower costs. The ability to monitor patients remotely will significantly reduce the impact of geography on the ability of individuals to receive healthcare.
- Diagnosis & Clinical Development: Wearable Technologies combined with predictive algorithms can power early and better diagnosis of patients. Also, AI-powered tools will enhance the ability of physicians to make a more accurate and earlier diagnosis. Human-augmented AI is also being used a lot outside of these groups to make the drug discovery process more efficient. Ultimately, over the long term, this will expand the treatment options that are available.
What does the future hold?
Apart from the Big Tech companies we discussed above, we also believe that there is scope for startups in this field. And with the advent of the startups, we can expect the Big Tech companies to fall back on what they do well for the short term at least. However, we do feel that these companies are far too big and wealthy to simply rely on their current strengths, and hence, we anticipate some level of expansion through acquisitions too. Google's acquisition of Fitbit as an effort to get into the wearables market is a perfect example of this, and this a real possibility that many startups could face, wherein these tech giants come knocking sooner or later.
Additionally, from a promotional perspective, we believe these companies may start paying much more attention to consumers and patients to really convey the importance of having a certain device or sensor that can be placed on the body that'll help monitor their health. Moreover, the notion of drug discovery and using artificial intelligence and machine learning as a way of enhancing the efficiency of our ability to identify potential treatment options could gain more traction in the medium to long term. Such methods could have a dramatic impact on the ability of the pharmaceutical industry to identify and then develop more viable treatments, which will in turn enhance our ability to treat difficult-to-treat patients as well.
Overall, for these Big Tech companies, it is clear that the healthcare sector is of particular interest, and we can only expect to see a bigger involvement from them in the coming years. These are companies determined to tap into the vast opportunities that they have identified in this market, and as their influence grows, so too could the quality and quantity of healthcare facilities. How exactly this transforms our landscape is yet to be seen, but going by what has been seen till now, the signs are promising.