From Uber launching a medical transit program to Amazon and Apple opening clinics, technology titans spent 2018 stirring towards the health care industry. Some of their ventures are still in early stages, but they will continue to grow in 2019, and a few of them will have a major impact on the world´s health care experiences as soon as this year.
These ventures make sense from an economic perspective: in any nation, the health care market is one of the biggest industries. Just in the United States, this sector represents more than $2.8 trillion dollars annually. However, the American health care industry is also very inefficient, which translates to a massive opportunity and huge potential for money to be made, giving these technology companies plenty of space to operate without directly competing with each other… yet.
Here is what we will be seeing with technology companies and health care in 2019:
Amazon began 2018 with the announcement that it would work with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to form an independent healthcare company for their employees. Since then, it purchased online pharmacy PillPack for just under $1 billion USD and announced plans to sell software that will read medical records through algorithms that will try to decipher doctor´s hieroglyphics on medical prescriptions, just as pharmacists have been doing for the last century.
In 2018, Apple Health updated its app so that it could display medical records from 39 hospitals. It received FDA clearance (which is not the same as FDA approval) for a new Apple Watch feature called the electrocardiogram (EKG), which is a more advanced method of heart monitoring. The FDA clearance marks the surest sign yet that Apple is increasingly moving away from simply being a fitness app into being a health company.
Just like Amazon, it opened an on-site clinic for its employees, it is also getting into the medical records space. In November, the company announced that it was in talks with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans access to electronic medical records on the iPhone.
The big question for 2019 is how the EKG feature on the Apple Watch will shake out. Already, there has been concern from experts about the performance of the feature and they have pointed out the possibility of doing more harm than good by giving perfectly healthy people false positives, which could send them into the clinic and take time away from those who are more likely to be sick. With Apple selling around 8 million watches a quarter, that could be a considerable issue.
The transportation company UBER wants a piece of the medical transit market. In March, the company launched Uber Health, which lets health providers book rides for patients or caregivers. This is not meant to replace ambulances, although some experts say that a ride in a different way of transportation might actually be better than an ambulance, since the ride can cost thousands of dollars and often isn’t covered by insurance.
Uber Health is interested in the 3 plus billion dollar of non-medical-emergency transportation market. Uber Health will cater to people who can’t drive (often because they’re too old, poor or sick), and need to get to the hospital but frequently miss appointments because of how unreliable the public transport system is. However it is worth to mention that Uber hasn’t had a great record when it comes to wheelchair accessibility, which could be a problem when serving a market likely to rely on a wheelchair for mobility.
Alphabet is the parent company of Google and Verily Life Sciences (formerly a division of Google) its focus is on health research and a giant in the tech ecosystem, and some of its planned initiatives could impact people’s lives outside of a traditional health care setting.
Google hired a new CEO, David Feinberg, to address its fragmented health initiatives. These ventures include Google Brain project an AI-powered speech recognition to help physicians take notes during a hospital visit and connected home company Nest, which acquired a health-monitoring startup and is interested in using its technology in nursing homes. As the population ages, tech for the elderly will be an increasing trend, so it’s not surprising that Google has its eyes on this market.
Verily has continued research collaborations, such as working with the pharmaceutical company Gilead to study immunological disorders and developing algorithms that can predict heart disease by looking at a patient’s eyes. It has continued making business deals, such as partnering with ResMed to tackle sleep apnea, and it’s likely to continue its program to eradicate mosquitoes in Fresno, California using specially bred infertile bugs. Most recently, Verily announced that it will partner with Walgreens to use technology to address medical non-compliance, or the problem of patients not taking their pills as directed.
What else is coming in health and technology during 2019? We’ll find out.
The Yucatan Times