How Tech Giants Should Be Involved in Healthcare

March 15, 2019

The next best moves for Amazon, Apple, and Google in the transformation of healthcare.

It is safe to assume that technology giants will keep the throttle wide open on their healthcare ambitions and investments in 2019, even with threats of an economic slowdown on the horizon. Opportunities in remote patient monitoring, predictive algorithms for population health, and AI-driven diagnostics will continue to attract interest and capital from established leaders as well as innovative new comers.

But there will be some noticeable changes with respect to approach and focus among the leading tech giants. In light of slowing global economies, increasing concerns over data privacy and social media backlash, 2019 will see the smartest tech giants:

  • Sharpen their focus on one or two specific healthcare opportunities

  • Work with established strategic partners to accelerate progress while also sharing the risk.

But if you are Amazon, Apple, or Google, how do you decide where to focus? Hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue and cash reserves has a way of dampening humility, no matter how many warning signs were left behind by previous companies who were no less committed to ‘fixing’ healthcare. Healthcare is a massive landscape full of buried treasure, surrounded by natural gas reserves, covered by a minefield that was never accurately mapped. The opportunities are enormous, but one misstep can be disastrous.

Rather than repeat the well-researched analyses on what the large tech giants might do in 2019, let’s instead look at where they should focus based on market needs and the core competencies that each giant brings to the table.

With that in mind, here are the top three suggested technology-giant/healthcare-company mashups for 2019:

  • Amazon and biopharma

  • Apple and EMRs

Amazon and biopharma manufacturers

  • Need/opportunity. Reduce the costs of prescription drugs for consumers and payers by cutting out pharmacy benefit managers (PBM)/wholesale middlemen, improving standards with respect to growing direct-to-consumer sales and increasing pricing transparency and competition at the retail level.

  • Why? No matter what you think about Amazon, they know how to move things from point A to point B better than anyone else. While not everyone lives in a place where drug delivery to the door is practical or safe, for the places where it works it is a no-brainer to have Amazon step into this role. Given Amazon’s purchase of PillPack in 2018, and its ability to manage perishables, delivering drugs just makes sense. Hopefully, this will also increase consumers’ ability to compare prices and minimize some of the hidden rebates and price gouging of recent years.

  • Industry reaction. PBMs will not go quietly into the night. They will apply pressure and point out fine print in the contracts to the biopharma companies that take this step, but the opportunity to cut out middlemen who have largely outlived their usefulness is too attractive for the largest companies to ignore.

Related: The Biggest Growth Opportunities in Healthcare

Google and medical device manufacturers

  • Need/opportunity. Create fewer fragmented platforms and better tools to collect and analyze complex healthcare data; generate larger data collections to feed machine-learning algorithms and identify meaningful insights.

  • Why? Google is exceptional when it comes to analytics and has built an impressive environment for building and deploying AI in a variety of areas. But Google also has a problem: its advertising model is in direct conflict with the kind of privacy that healthcare requires. On the other hand, medical device manufacturers are experts at navigating (and respecting) the complex healthcare regulatory environment. However, these companies often lack expertise when it comes to data platforms and AI and they will continue to struggle attracting the kind of talent that’s required to develop this area. Bottom line: these two need each other.

  • Industry reaction. EMR companies are attempting to generate insights given that so much clinical data flows through their systems. But the reality is that most EMRs are glorified accounting systems that were never designed to manage clinical data and workflow, much less sophisticated data science and AI.

Apple and EMR companies

  • Need/opportunity. EMR companies have enormous data stores that need to be liberated to consumers, providers and researchers, but the existing tools and platforms suffer from almost unusable interfaces; consumers need easy ways to manage their data, not just own it in principle.

  • Why? Upending the major EMR companies may sound appealing at times, but the reality is that they are not going anywhere anytime soon. Too much has been invested across the industry to simply walk away or start over. However, that doesn’t mean most users-providers and consumers-need to directly interact with these systems. Healthcare desperately needs a new interface layer that improves the experience as users interact with their personal health data. By far, Apple does user interfaces (UI) better than anyone else, and its business model makes it easier for consumers to know where they fit in the customer hierarchy. Of course, how Apple monetizes this UI layer is a slightly longer discussion.

  • Industry reaction. Every tech giant and EMR company will be reluctant to admit their limitations in interface design and capitulate to Apple. But consumers have suffered with existing companies’ best efforts for years and can no longer ignore the fact that these poor interfaces drive down user engagement among people who are actually trying to be model patients.

These mashups are in no way meant to represent the end game for tech giants in healthcare. Rather, they highlight starting points that:

  • Reflect the need for innovation and new thinking in large, but also specific areas of need

  • Minimize new entrants’ tendencies to boil the ocean, fail miserably, and quietly retreat.

The Gordian knot that is healthcare desperately needs tech giant innovation to do more than visit. The industry needs them to stay around for a while and improve a few big things while they are here.

C. Anthony Jones is a healthcare executive with more than 25 years of industry experience. He’s the founder and CEO of Frontive, a health IT company that uses artificial intelligence to create smart personal health assistants for patients and caregivers managing complex care situations. Prior to Frontive, he was chief commercial officer for Lumiata, a predictive health analytics company, and also served as chief marketing officer for Philips Healthcare’s Patient Care & Monitoring Solutions group, a $3 billion global business.