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Will the Future of Healthcare Be in the Hands of Tech Giants?

Will the Future of Healthcare Be in the Hands of Tech Giants?
Amazon’s HQ2, which is slated for completion in 2025, will run on 100% renewable energy. (Credit: NBBJ)

With global healthcare spending expected to reach US$10 trillion by 2022 and technology making it easier to connect with patients, it is unsurprising that big-name players are entering the market. Recently, Google, Apple and Microsoft have all made forays into the industry and now Amazon looks set to make waves.

Amazon Care launched 18 months ago with a pilot scheme to provide the company’s employees and their families in Washington State with medical care. The app-based service enabled them to connect with medical professionals via chat or video in less than 60 seconds. Prescriptions could be home delivered and, if necessary, an in-person service could be instigated for additional care.

Now Amazon Care is about to expand its services to other companies and its own employees across all US 50 states. According to Dr. Bertalan Mesko, Director of the Medical Futurist Institute, it is not surprising that the big tech players want a lasting presence in the healthcare industry. He said:

“It is not only a lucrative industry but also a means to gain trust among their users.”

The Apple Watch Series 6 (Credit: Apple)

The Apple Watch, with its ECG app and irregular rhythm notifications, is known for its health features. Now the company has also teamed up with scientific establishments to conduct large-scale health studies. The aim is to establish how its technology might impact a range of other medical issues, including detecting early signs of heart failure and monitoring hearing health.

Microsoft has dipped its toes in the healthcare waters with its fitness tracker the Microsoft Band and its Covid-19 vaccine management platform. Google’s forays have included Verily, its Alphabet healthcare branch, which is involved in various projects of research into digital healthcare.

Dr. Mesko explained:

“Tech companies will play a major role in the future of care with the products they can bring to the table.”

The Microsoft Band 2 (Credit: Microsoft)

Three years ago, Amazon joined forces with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase to form Haven. The aim was to provide low-cost healthcare services and insurance to their own employees with an eye on future expansion beyond their own operations. The venture came to an end earlier this year, however, and now Amazon is pushing ahead with Amazon Care. The company has also pushed forward in healthcare in other ways, including with its health and wellness band, Halo. This has a new “Movement Health” feature, which uses a smartphone camera and AI-based software to create custom workouts to improve stability, mobility, and posture. Dr. Mesko said:

“With the steps the company has taken so far, we can expect Amazon to push further where it has the supply chain and the experience to support the process, whether it’s for telehealth or drug delivery. They might even combine the latter with their drone delivery plans to accentuate Amazon Pharmacy’s radical approach to drug delivery.”

“Partners in Care”

John Nosta, World Health Organisation (WHO) technology expert and member of the Google Health Advisory Board, says the movement of tech giants into the healthcare has, in many instances, been gradual. He explained:

“Exercise, wellness, and other health-related topics have consistently played a central content role for sites like Facebook and searches for Google. These companies have had a long-standing interest in health and recognized that this represented a significant financial potential. For big tech, data is the central driver of its role in healthcare.”

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (Photo illustration by Newsweek; source images by Westend61/Getty; Alex Wong/Getty)

He observed that Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has suggested Apple’s biggest legacy will be in healthcare. 

“That’s a big vision and sets a trajectory to health, wellness and even medicine. Similarly, past Apple CEO John Sculley said digital health will be bigger than the PC. Some, including Sculley, say the pursuit of healthcare is part of the ‘noble cause’ that defines the company with a more human perspective. While that may certainly be the case, the primary driver is revenue: health and medicine represent the single largest market in the world today.”

Looking ahead, he sees the greatest healthcare successes in the areas of data, analytics and AI.

“The smartest person in the room will no longer be the physician, it will be the computer.”

Digitization will be the linchpin to the path of dematerialization, demonetization and democratization, allowing real-time and across care. He added:

“The pandemic taught us all that agility is central to the management of the virus as well as our lives. The ability to adopt and change isn’t just a physical construct that impacts tangible things. Agility must also be a mental construct that allows us to unlearn and relearn new ways forward—and technology is central to this idea. I believe the big tech companies will be a ‘partner in care’ and given their global reach this seems likely.”