News & Events

How Big Tech Is Disrupting Big Healthcare

April 11, 2019

Big Tech is busy disrupting healthcare and shaping the industry’s future, and Amazon is showing the latest example of that — though it’s hardly the only force putting pressure for change on that massive sector of the economy.

Amazon wants to enable Alexa, its voice-activated digital assistant, to keep tabs on customers’ medicine and provide personal health updates, and is taking the steps to achieve that. Amazon said Alexa is HIPAA-compliant and that five healthcare companies including Cigna, Livongo Health and hospital partners have created new Alexa skills, enabling Alexa to make appointments at urgent care facilities, track prescription drug shipments and provide doctors with information once a patient is released from the hospital.

That’s only the latest healthcare move involving Amazon. The eCommerce giant has teamed with J.P.Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway on a joint healthcare initiative, which the companies recently announced is named Haven. Areas of focus include easing healthcare system navigation and making treatments and medicine more affordable. How exactly that will happen remains relatively vague but Haven, according to a website devoted to the venture, will work with insurers, medical service providers and pharmacy benefit managers to achieve its goals.

The rise of Haven comes as Amazon continues to develop its new offering in prescription drug delivery — another way healthcare is being disrupted by the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google.

News of Amazon‘s acquisition of online pharmacy startup PillPack has had analysts assuming the eCommerce conglomerate is ready to introduce an online pharmacy to its suite of services. For its first step, though, Amazon began rolling out PillPack services to Amazon employees.

AI Healthcare

As for Google, its plans to disrupt healthcare and play a major role in that industry include using data and artificial intelligence (AI). That’s according to Toby Cosgrove, an executive advisor to the Google Cloud health care team. Such tools could allow Google to help medical professionals better spot health trends and determine more efficient — and perhaps even less expensive — treatment plans. AI in healthcare will reach $36.1 billion by 2025, according to a recent report.

More specifically, Google had previously said it would work with Fitbit, a maker of wearable devices, on healthcare initiatives tied to consumer and enterprise health situations, with Fitbit using Google’s new Cloud for Healthcare API to help the company integrate further into the healthcare system. Through this collaboration, Fitbit can connect user data with electronic medical records (EMR).

Wearables and Records

Apple also has a hand in wearables, and in offering encouragement toward exercise and healthy living through those devices. Earlier this year, for instance, Aetna said that via the Apple Watch, the insurance provider’s Attain app will give Aetna members access to personalized goals, the ability to track their daily activity levels, access to health action recommendations and the ability to earn rewards for taking actions that improve their overall well-being. According to Aetna, reward opportunities include the ability for eligible users to earn their Apple Watch via participation in the program.

Apple is also working with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit to study whether the Apple Watch can be used to prevent strokes. But wearables aren’t the only focus for Apple when it comes to healthcare. It will provide its Health Records feature on the iPhone to the upwards of 9 million veterans in facilities all over the country. That means veterans will be able to peruse their health records and see secure medical info, all organized in one app on their iPhones. Things like immunizations, conditions, allergies, procedures and lab results will all be displayed, and veterans will be able to see a summarized health profile on demand.

Sight and Voice

Meanwhile, Google, via its parent company, Alphabet, also hoped to change healthcare with its Google Glass product. Augmedix is a San Francisco-based company that has used Alphabet Inc.’s connected eyewear to provide doctors and other health care professionals with medical transcripts — an effort that continues even as Google tries to reposition Google Glass for industrial and manufacturing uses.

Voice, too, is another area Google is hoping will change healthcare and make life easier for patients, and give it a larger role in the market, just as Amazon is thinking.

Late last year, for instance, news emerged that Google Accessibility was working directly with those in the disability community to develop Voice Access. Tied directly to the Google Voice assistant, the accessibility service is designed to make it easier for users to navigate a wider range of tasks via voice command instead of manual actions. It accomplishes that by letting users essentially translate a button push, page scroll or item selection into a voice command that Google Assistant can easily follow.

Alexa, too, might have more tricks up its sleeve when it comes to healthcare — such as an integration with MediSprout, a health communications startup, to launch a platform for scheduling appointments. The platform works by tapping into the MediSprout V2MD telehealth platform, which will now allow patients to access physicians’ calendars, book appointments and add those appointments both to their calendars and their doctors’ calendars via Alexa.

Healthcare encompasses so much — data, patient access, ideas for new treatments — and involves so many — doctors, nurses, hospital systems, pharmacies and others. Change will certainly not happen overnight, but these latest healthcare moves by Amazon, Apple and Google shows that more disruption is certain to happen, and probably sooner than might be expected.