The Biggest Healthcare Tech Moves So Far

December 24, 2019
Amit Phull
Amit Phull

A look at healthcare’s most significant moments in 2019 and a look at what’s to come.

The holiday season is in full effect and before we know it, we will be in the new year.

Already, there are high expectations for 2020. The start of this next decade will see the election of a new president in the United States, the expiration of the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union, the launch of NASA’s Mars 2020 Mission, and undoubtedly many significant advances in the healthcare space.

Before we look ahead, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on 2019. This year saw notable disruptions in the healthcare industry–many of which were spurred by companies outside the healthcare space.

Here are a few of healthcare’s biggest moments of 2019:

Amazon Launches Healthcare Clinic

One of the biggest tech players expanding its footprint in healthcare is Amazon. This year, Amazon launched Amazon Care, a pilot healthcare service for its employees in the Seattle, Washington area that offers in-person services and a virtual primary care clinic. With the tagline, “Healthcare built around you,” the service aims to provide personalized health services and improve access to care for its employees. The initiative grew out of Haven, Amazon’s joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan which was announced in 2018 as an effort to reduce healthcare costs without compromising quality.

Related: Amazon Launches Medical Transcription Service

Some industry experts speculate that the service is a way for Amazon to test healthcare products in its own clinics; others believe it is a way for them to explore new market opportunities in population health management. Both may be accurate. Amazon has already invested significantly in this project, having recently acquired the company Health Navigator whose services will be rolled into the Amazon Care offering. 

In addition to Amazon Care, the company began rolling out its PillPack pharmacy service to Amazon Prime members in 2019. The service provides free home delivery of prescription medicines; the only cost is the user’s co-pay. Amazon reportedly has another healthcare product in the works as well: Alexa wireless earbuds that integrate with a fitness tracker. Look for more to come on this development in the year ahead.

Apple Unveils ECG-enabled Watch

Apple’s annual new product announcement is one of the most anticipated events of the tech calendar year, and 2019 did not disappoint. Usually the announcement by Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the company’s latest smartphone, but this year a new Apple Watch took the spotlight, with the company touting the device’s ability to detect irregular heart rhythms and other health issues. The watch is the first consumer wearable with a built-in electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor–software that was cleared by the FDA. By holding a finger on the device, users with the new Apple Watch can access a feature to identify atrial fibrillation, a common form of an irregular heart rhythm. The watch’s ECG app will notify users if it detects an irregular rhythm.

It is important to note the Apple Watch’s new tool has limited capabilities. It will not help detect most heart rhythm abnormalities or worsening heart failure and will not reliably detect the electronic changes associated with a heart attack. If you think you are having a heart attack or any other serious medical condition, always call 911.

The new Apple Watch also contains a feature targeted at the elderly; those 65 and older. A built-in tool recognizes when a user falls and automatically notifies their emergency contact. Experts describe the device as a “game-changer” that can potentially make patient monitoring easier and more regular.

Google Acquires Healthcare Wearables Pioneer

Google also made significant headway in healthcare this year, most notably with its announcement to acquire Fitbit. With Google’s resources and global network, the acquisition is expected to accelerate the company’s innovation in healthcare wearables. Through collaborations with academic medical centers and pharmaceutical companies, FitBit has been studying applications that may potentially enable the device to detect atrial fibrillation, assess sleep quality, and track menstrual cycles among other health applications. The deal, valued at $2.1 billion, equips Google with a device to more directly compete with the Apple Watch’s healthcare capabilities. The FitBit acquisition is expected to close in 2020, pending regulatory and shareholder approval.

We can expect the momentum seen from Amazon, Apple, and Google in 2019 to increase in 2020 as these companies and others seek to further integrate digital technologies in healthcare offerings. With growing industry focus on personalized care and tech disruptors continuing to make waves in the market, the next decade promises to bring a new age of innovation in healthcare. The ‘Big 3’ of tech may very well soon become some of the biggest players in the healthcare space.

Amit Phull, Medical Director and VP of Strategy and Insights at Doximity