Technology is transforming the world we live in and healthcare is no exception. The pandemic has accelerated Big Tech’s interest in healthcare; the Big Four, Alphabet, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, are all showing much more of an interest in how we prevent illnesses and care for the unwell.
The healthcare market is certainly a lucrative one. In 2018, it was already worth $8.45trn, and the growth of the market has only been accelerated by the pandemic. Indeed, Google’s acquisition of Fitbit for $2.1bn highlights the potential for large amounts of investment and return for Big Tech.
As the relationship between healthcare and major tech companies is strengthened, it has the potential to significantly change the sector. So, what are the possible impacts?
Reduce stress on services
Building the relationships between Big Tech companies and healthcare has the potential to reduce stress on the NHS. Wearable fitness devices, such as the Apple Watch, can build profiles of users and be used to manage chronic conditions or communicate to users if they are at risk of diabetes. Research by Pletex suggests the use of such devices could cut the NHS costs per patient by up to 60 per cent. Working in this preventative way can help to provide care to patients before they require hospitalisation or treatment.
Amazon’s Alexa is also being tested as a way to help people with diabetes manage the disease. Alexa currently enables new patient touchpoints via Skills. Users can query their last blood sugar reading, call caregivers and schedule appointments. In an increasingly digital world, employing technology for preventive healthcare has huge potential.
Data collection and distribution
The healthcare sector provides another opportunity for the Big Four to gain access to user data. Patient data combined with user connectivity could make a company very valuable. Apple, in particular, is interested in helping users securely manage and organise health data. With an Active Installed Base of one billion, Apple has a ready and waiting platform to capture health data.
However, there are concerns about the potential of health data security. Big Tech wants the right to collect data, yet, once data is moved offshore, there is no guarantee UK GDPR laws will be enforced. This could lead to patient’s private data being leaked. Indeed, only 19 per cent of the public believe tech companies have their best interest at heart, begging the question of whether they would accept Big Tech having control of extremely private data.
The global distribution of patient data could also lead to a loss of valuable resource for research and health service planning for the NHS. If the data is then used to create new tools, this could be costly with the NHS having to buy back services created by its own data.
Regardless, healthcare is being forced to move on with its digital transformation. Tech giants are well-positioned to invest and push ahead with their own healthcare ambitions. If managed correctly, Big Tech has the potential to work collaboratively with healthcare and provide a more effective experience.