Why Tech Giants Like Google and Apple Are Moving into the Healthcare Space

Today, an increasing number of tech companies are making forays into health care. Google Ventures, the investment arm of the search engine, was ranked one of the leading investors in digital health in 2015. Earlier in 2016, Nokia’s acquisition of connected health company Withings made big headlines.

Why are Google, Apple and others so keen on health care? How are these companies altering the healthcare space? Moreover, what does the future relationship between these players and health care look like? Here is all you need to know about the love affair between tech companies and health care:

Why the Sudden Interest?:

Health care was not always a hot favorite for IT companies. However, the rapid changes in the industry have made it ripe for business. Here are a few reasons why an increasing number of tech companies are breaking into the healthcare sector:

Disruption: Health care has always been, and still is, a sensitive and hugely complex universe. This industry is begging for innovative solutions in the marketplace that can make health care easier to navigate—for both patients and providers. As Intel general manager Michael Jackson says, “The opportunity exists because of disruption. There are fewer industries being disrupted more right now than health care.”

Talking about business opportunities in health care, Unity Stoakes, founder of StartUp Health, says, “The companies that are best placed to take advantage of these changes are those that really understand consumers.”

Who knows consumers better than Apple, Nokia, Google and Samsung do?

Affordable Care Act: Obamacare has given an impetus to data-driven medicine. In fact, the Affordable Care Act requires that data on cost and quality should be made freely available. The focus on big data, as well as consumers’ growing comfort with tracking their daily habits, has cleared the way for the introduction of wearable technology, mobile apps and other high-tech digital applications.

It is the perfect opportunity for tech companies to swoop in with tech solutions, isn’t it?

Big Money: The last, but definitely not the least, important factor—revenue generation! After all, money makes the world go round! Did you know that health care in the United States is a $3 trillion industry?

It shouldn’t be surprising that the big boys of tech want some of this money pot, too.

How Tech Companies Are Trying to Cure Health Care:

Leading tech companies Apple, Google, IBM, and Samsung are spending billions on digital health initiatives, especially around wearables, life sciences and smartphones. Let’s take a look at what these giants have been up to:

Google: “The collision of new technology and the life sciences will bring radical change to what health care means, and what it looks like, in the next 20 years,” says Bill Maris, managing partner of Google Ventures.

Google has had a long-standing interest in health care and life sciences. Its Calico project, for example, is a high-tech research and development lab that hopes to combat aging. Not just that, Google’s life sciences department, Verily, works with top researchers and medical experts to help provide the true picture of human health. Led by well-known cell biologist Andy Conrad, Verily has some futuristic projects lined up that could change health care forever.

Along with life sciences, diabetes is another area where Google is pushing for a breakthrough. Google and digital health company Dexcom came together at the end of 2015 to launch a new generation of continuous glucose monitors (CGM).

Finally, Google Ventures remains a keen investor in the health tech space. Recently, Google Ventures announced that more than one-third of its investments are in life sciences and health care.

Apple: Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has emphasized the company’s focus on health care on many occasions. “We believe we’re just at the beginning of amazing new health and wellness solutions for our customers,” says Cook.

Apple moved into health care through a range of products and services. The Apple Watch, for example, tracks the user’s daily habits, heartbeat, activity levels and lots more.

HealthKit is an Internet platform that can store data from different devices and share it with a user’s healthcare provider. In fact, the partnership between Apple’s HealthKit and prestigious medical institution Mayo Clinic was much talked about.

 says Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. John Noseworthy.

In addition, Apple’s ResearchKit and the recently launched CareKit are open-source frameworks that allow developers to build healthcare apps. All this and more is making Apple one of the biggest players pushing innovation in health care.

Samsung: This tech giant was one of the first players to get entrenched in various healthcare fronts, including devices, medical imaging, diagnostics and patient records. Today, Samsung Medison is widely regarded as a leading manufacturer of ultrasound, imaging and other medical devices. What’s more, Samsung’s Note and Galaxy smartphones are now integrated with Gear Fit, the company’s own tracking device.

In fact, Samsung’s clear ambition is “to become a global leader as a healthcare company through joining together its display, semiconductor, and mobile businesses.”

More recently, Samsung pledged to spend $1.2 billion on Internet of Things research, with an emphasis on health care. Talking about IoT, CEO Oh-Hyun Kwon says, “We can keep people out of hospitals and nursing homes. As our populations live longer, these benefits and cost savings for society cannot be ignored.”

Samsung has been a long-standing player in health care. Can the others stand up to it?

IBM: In April 2015, IBM turned much of its attention to health care with the launch of the IMB Watson Health and the Watson Health Cloud platform. IBM is using Watson’s powerful machine learning and cloud computing to transform health care. Other than the cutting-edge technology that drives it, IBM Watson Health’s partnership strategy is a sharp arrow in its health tech quiver.

Over the past year, we’ve seen IBM Watson Health strike some key deals, including the acquisition of Merge Healthcare, plus various strategic partnerships. Notable among these are IBM Watson Health’s partnerships with Apple, to analyze its ResearchKit data; with CVS Health, to transform care management for patients with chronic diseases; and with Johnson & Johnson, to develop new drugs.

IBM Watson Health also came together with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) to develop a diabetes adviser for patients and caregivers. More recently, IBM announced its recruitment of 16 healthcare entities to form a new Watson Health medical imaging collaborative.

“No one company is big enough to transform an industry on its own. It takes a village to change,” says Kathy McGroddy, vice president of IBM Watson Health.

The Road Ahead:

The marriage between tech companies and health care seems to be “until death do us part!” However, this doesn’t mean that there are no rocky patches on this long and regulated journey.

Overestimating consumers’ willingness to use IT to monitor their daily activities, failure to fully understand patient-clinician relationships, and ignoring regulatory procedures are some of the hurdles that can derail this runaway train.

Overcoming the current lack of interoperability among these tech giants is another big challenge. Mark Dudman, senior vice president of healthcare company NaviNet, says, “As these companies are moving in, the biggest challenge remains that there are so many different parts of health care that are these islands of expertise.”

Notwithstanding these hurdles, the ambitions of tech companies in health care show no sign of slowing down! Newer players, like Facebook and Amazon, have already started to make their moves into health care.

The BIG question remains: will these new entrants be able to dislodge the current big tech players, or are they are waking up a little too late?

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