American Tech Giants enter the race to improve Healthcare
The United States spends more than $3 trillion annually on health care, making it the fifth largest industry in the country. In 2017, ten of the largest American tech giants entered the healthcare race and became involved in health care equity deals valued at more than $2.7 billion, up 90% since 2012. As technology begins to shape the future of healthcare, the demand for health professionals continues to climb.
In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed into law. This bill provided economic stimulus in areas like tax relief, social welfare provisions, and unemployment benefits. Included in this $787 billion legislation, 20% was allocated for healthcare improvements with $19.2 billion reserved exclusively towards advancing electronic health records and the overall exchange of health information. In order to effectively implement ARRA, also referred to as ‘Meaningful Use’, the United States government incentivized eligible healthcare professionals to participate. And by 2015, issued penalties for organizations non-compliant with the policy- taking form in a 1% reduction in Medicare reimbursements. This legislation, coupled with the demand from patients, has led to the acceleration of health informatics and the need for health informatics working professionals.
The need for qualified professionals in this field has never been stronger.
As an industry, Health Informatics connects people with health technology to better improve healthcare outcomes and safety. Covering health data collection, storage, reporting, and communication, Health Informatics maintains a mission to advance operational efficiencies to streamline comprehensive care and protect patient data. As developments to those processes are continually made through design, implementation, and configuration, the Health Informatics career field continues to expand.
According to a 2017 report done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Informatics will experience a 21% job growth rate by 2020.
With the career field growing 10-times the industry rate and big tech companies eager to enter the healthcare arena, job growth is predicted to continue.
In 2014 Apple stepped into the healthcare ring with the launch of the Health app and HealthKit platform. Providing an opportunity for consumers to monitor things like personal health data, fitness metrics, calorie intake/output, and sleep patterns. The Health app brings these measurements to life on your device, all in one place to review and share. While HealthKit serves as the developer platform underneath, gathering data from users different health and fitness apps to make it visible through the Health app. Following the successful launch of the Health App and HealthKit, Apple introduced the Apple Watch in 2015. The Apple Watch not only offered an alternate and abbreviated way to access personal health information but shortened the gap between physicians and patients.
Now able to offer a platform and a product, Apple began exploring the ways they could encourage healthier behaviors from customers. Appealing not only to the ‘worried well’ but more specifically to patients with long-term medical conditions, like diabetes or atrial fibrillation. Apple began researching partnerships with insurance providers and health companies, like American Well and Glimpse, to create a one-stop shop for personal health data through Apple devices. Offering users the ability to store prescriptions, allergy information, and health conditions, as well as, share with their physicians.
“Give patients their data and let them control its destiny” – David Blumenthal, President of Commonwealth Fund
In 2017, Apple joined forces with AliveCor to build the world’s first FDA-cleared Electrocardiogram (EKG) for Apple Watch. By simply placing your thumb on AliveCor’s KardiaBand sensor, Apple’s SmartRhythm technology produces an instant analysis to evaluate heart rate and physical activity. Apple has also teamed with Dexcom, one of the largest global leaders in glucose management, to pair Apple devices with Dexcom technology for users to track and monitor glucose levels making continued visibility to this health metric possible.
As Apple enters into this new era of healthcare, chief among their priorities is consumer privacy and security. And as they develop new products to enhance the patient experience, they must meet FDA regulations in the U.S. and MHRA regulations in the UK before offering devices as a consumer-facing solution. And although Apple currently has software in place at 39 U.S. health systems- many of which are among the most prominent in the nation-users eagerly wait to see what’s next.
Although, by comparison, Amazon’s history in healthcare is brief, the impact and effects are predicted to shake up the industry and how it operates, completely. In early 2017, Amazon took part as an investor in a health startup company known as Grail, which uses genomic, deep sequencing technology to detect and research signs of cancer present in the blood. In order to reach its investment goal of $1 billion, Grail will require endless channels for data processing and storage. Enter Amazon. Many were unsure why Amazon competed for the investment spot; but, in January 2018, it became clear. Amazon, JP Morgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet, would partner to architect a company focused on “technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.”
This trio, uniting 2 of the 3 richest people in the world, aims to disrupt the current healthcare model with combined financial capital and technology software in place powered by Amazon. As electronic health records and access to medical history continue to evolve, cloud computing is vital to support that storage and communication. By obsessing on the patient and consumer experience, this group works to make healthcare more transparent and accessible to the patient.
“The health care system needs better transparency around both cost of care and quality of care, and while the system is moving to make improvements on both of those things…the average consumer doesn’t have a lot of vision into that”
-Martin Arrick, S&P Global Ratings analyst
Through leveraging the expertise and network of all three investors, they look to achieve key changes like distributing medical devices and supplies, offering efficient measures around pharmacy delivery and prescription management, and using developed technologies to enhance patient experience with tools like telemedicine and artificial intelligence. With these implementations and changes, the hope is to reduce overall medical costs by $7.5 billion between providers and patients. Given the infancy of this relationship and effort, experts are left to speculate at this point. But many wonder, will healthcare soon see reinvention through on-demand innovation?
Among the three tech companies highlighted here, Google’s interest and investment in healthcare reach farthest. And Alphabet, Google’s parent company, remains the most active American technology company in health and biotech. Beginning in 2008, Google made its first attempt into the market with Google Health. This service allowed users to store and gather all relevant health data inside the Google store. In 2011, Google Health evolved into Google Fit and was meant to compete with Apple’s HealthKit allowing developers a resource to build apps on. Intent on making clinical improvements through cloud technology, machine learning, and advanced security, Alphabet has acquired three healthcare companies aimed at accomplishing just that.
Calico, Verily, and DeepMind lead the charge in Alphabet’s efforts to transform healthcare. Calico, focused solely on research around age related diseases like neurodegeneration, received backing from Google in 2013. Followed by DeepMind in 2014, a Cambridge based digital company specializing in artificial intelligence getting patients from “test to treatment” as efficiently and accurately as possible. For example, developing mobile technology to alert clinicians when a patient’s health declines to provide faster and improved care.
Lastly, Verily was acquired in 2015 actively working with medical device creation and technology software with it’s most relevant pursuit Project Baseline. Using a study of 10,000 people, this project will center around self-reported health data (collection, analyzing, and organizing) to lead the path to disease prevention. Through this collection of comprehensive health data, Verily can identify best practices for safer, healthier patient outcomes in the future.
As access to health and health information becomes increasingly digital, Google works to improve the standards in place to produce better data sharing through cloud technology. And make interacting with physicians more collaborative. Engineered with a sharp focus on compliance and patient security, Alphabet’s ambition relies on connecting patients with providers to ensure optimal care and total transparency. Respectively, it’s not difficult to understand how health informatics falls into Google’s game plan in their efforts to bridge technology with healthcare to improve health outcomes.
The shape and experience of American health care continue to mature as new technologies and advanced processes are introduced. We are seeing more efficient ways of delivering progressive solutions in a scalable way. And with big technology companies interested in being a part of that evolution, we stand to benefit with the convenience of care, access to affordable options, and the advantage of personalized patient treatments.