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Tech giants take on healthcare technology industry

Consumer technology giants such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and more are accelerating their efforts to remake the healthcare technology industry by developing new tools geared towards consumers, patients, doctors, insurers as well as medical researchers, and increasingly investing in health start-ups, according to a New York Times article.

While the tech industry has long been involved in healthcare, especially IBM, Intel and Microsoft, there has been a shift in the creation of, and investment in, new kinds of technologies for doctors, patients, and consumers.

The article cited data from CB Insights, a research firm that tracks venture capital and start-ups, that found that in the first 11 months of 2017, 10 of the largest tech companies in the United States were involved in healthcare equity deals worth $2.7 billion. This is up from $277 million for all of 2012, according to the article.

“Each tech company is taking its own approach, betting that its core business strengths could ultimately improve people’s health — or at least make health care more efficient,” the article said.

Here are what some of those tech giants are up to in the healthcare technology industry:

Google’s parent company, Alphabet

Alphabet is possibly the most active American consumer tech giant in health and biotech, according to the article. Specializing in data, Google’s parent company recently acquired Senosis Health, an app development company that uses smartphone sensors to monitor certain vital signs.

Alphabet also has a research unit called Verily Life Sciences, the article said, which is dedicated to developing new tools to collect and analyze health data.

In 2017, Verily introduced a health research device called the Verily Study Watch. This wearable device has sensors that can collect data on a person’s heart rate, gait and skin temperature, according to the article, and is currently being used in a research study called Project Baseline, financed by Verily, which has about 10,000 volunteers. Project Baseline participants are also asked to use sleep sensors in their beds and to also have blood, genetic and mental health tests done, the article said. The goal is to use data analytics and machine learning to get a more detailed picture of the progression of diseases such as cancer.

Apple’s consumer approach

Not surprisingly, Apple is using its iPhone and Apple Watch to help consumers better track and manage their health, the article said. In 2015, Apple introduced new software called Apple ResearchKit for health researchers and Stanford developed an app to enroll volunteers in a heart study and track their physical activities, their sleep as well as their fitness.

Stanford is also conducting an Apple Heart Study that is intended to determine whether an app for the Apple Watch can accurately detect irregular heart rhythms, the article said, particularly those associated with atrial fibrillation which is a condition that can lead to blood clots and strokes. If the app does detect an irregular heart rhythm it will send participants a notification, the article said, as well as offer them a free video consultation with a doctor.

Microsoft ramps up health business

Microsoft has been a major supplier of software and cloud services to healthcare organizations for a while now. But the company is ramping up its interest and business in the healthcare technology industry, according to the article.

In 2017, the company announced its initiative to create products for medical providers and patients using artificial intelligence and cloud services such as speech recognition, the article said. This initiative is called Healthcare NeXT. Microsoft worked with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to develop digital services aimed at improving physician and patient experiences, the article said. One of those digital services includes a virtual assistant that takes notes during conversations between a doctor and patient. Furthermore, the virtual assistant would also analyze the conversation and send a summary to the patient’s EHR.

Facebook and Amazon in healthcare

Facebook is making its way into the healthcare technology industry in a couple of ways, the article said. First, the social media platform made it more appealing for pharmaceutical companies to advertise their medications on the platform by introducing a rolling scroll feature. This feature allows drug makers to list their drug and its side effects in an ad, the article said.

Facebook is also the owner of Oculus, a virtual reality gear-maker. Oculus has teamed up with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to develop virtual reality simulations for doctors and medical students in order to allow them to practice handling high-risk pediatric medical emergencies, the article said.

And, although Amazon has been hush-hush about its plans in healthcare, the article said, industry analysts speculate that Amazon could enter the pharmacy business.

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