What Draws Big Tech to Healthcare?

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It seems like every big tech company is looking to break into healthcare — what’s driving this trend and what can we expect in the future?

Big tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and others have undoubtedly transformed the way we live and work. We use their devices, store our data on their servers, buy their products and services, and conduct much of our social lives on their platforms.

But now these companies want a larger piece of the healthcare pie, which represents more than $3 trillion in annual spending. In some ways, this may seem like a natural extension of these companies’ core business lines. But it also begs the question: if many of these companies don’t have experience or expertise in healthcare, why now? Where do they see their investment in healthcare taking them?

Too Big to Fail

In short, big tech companies cannot afford to stay out of the healthcare market. Many of these businesses — especially IBM, Intel, and Microsoft — have been servicing the healthcare industry for years, but now these companies are more visibly investing in new technology for doctors, patients, and healthcare systems.

“The big picture reason that a lot of these tech companies are getting into healthcare now is because the market is too big, too important, and much too personal to their users for them to ignore,” said John Prendergass, associate director of healthcare investment at Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a nonprofit in Philadelphia.

This isn’t to say that Apple, Amazon, and their ilk are walking into this industry blindly. Each company is taking its own approach, applying its core business strengths to solving healthcare challenges. For example, Apple has focused on creating health solutions for its smartphones and tablets. Microsoft has made use of its strengths in online storage and analytics, while Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is betting on data.

As far as the health industry is concerned, it’s about time that tech companies took the plunge into healthcare. “Frankly, I think health is such a big opportunity that I’m surprised it took [big tech] so long to take a concerted interest in it,” said FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. “If you think about where people allocate resources and tend to spend time thinking about getting access to information and making decisions and purchasing consumer products to meet goals, [healthcare’s] a big market. I’m pleased to see the interest and see a big, untapped opportunity.”

Innovation on the Horizon

By all measurement, tech companies have taken this “big, untapped opportunity” by the horns. In the past year, big tech has jump-started a slew of new investments and initiatives in the healthcare space. Some of the biggest advances they’ve made have been in clinical research: Alphabet’s health research unit, Verily Life Sciences, launched the Verily Study Watch, which will be used to collect vitals from 10,000 volunteers in a study called Project Baseline. Apple’s ResearchKit continues to be an invaluable tool for clinical trials and other researchers as they develop apps for their studies.

But big tech has also been able to provide tangible improvements to the ways providers and patients experience healthcare. Facebook’s Oculus partnered with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to develop VR simulations for doctors and medical students so they could practice responses to pediatric emergencies. Amazon’s partnership with healthcare IT company Cerner provides hospitals with a powerful analytics platform to synthesize data, identify areas for improvement, and reduce costs across the board.

It seems like big tech and healthcare will only become more intertwined as health becomes more digitized, personalized, and efficient. It’s a natural partnership that will completely change how patients, doctors, and organizations interact with health products and services.

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