Traditionally known for tech products, Amazon, Google and Apple are beginning covert ventures into yet another critical sphere of human life, healthcare.
With nearly 165,000 health-related apps that run on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, 12 million activity trackers, and 9 million smart watches that will enter circulation by 2018, it is not surprising that Google, Apple and Amazon are covertly leveraging capital and expertise to make major bets on cutting-edge healthcare technology.
Amazon’s Covert Project Team for Healthcare Tech
While Google and Apple have been outspoken about their efforts to gain a foothold in the healthcare sector, Amazon has not been quite as ready. Reports by CNBC indicate that the e-commerce giant has been putting together a secret project team that has been exploring platforms for electronic medical data, health apps, and telemedicine. The team, dubbed “1492” is reportedly working on extracting data from Electronic Medical Records, with a view to making the information available to consumers and their health care providers.
A source close to the project advised CNBC that the 1492 team is also hoping to build out its telemedicine arm, using technology to make virtual doctor-to-patient consultations a real option. Further to this, the team’s efforts extend to developing applications for existing Amazon products, such as the Amazon Echo and the Dash Wand. No stranger to innovation, we may even find Amazon building out its own line of health devices.
Once news of 1492’s existence became known, Amazon quickly took steps to erase all information confirming its existence. CNBC reports that jobs previously posted under the keyword “a1.492” were removed from Amazon’s site after their article went live. These job postings included openings for a UX Design Manager and for a Machine Learning Director with experience in healthcare IT, analytics, and a knowledge of electronic medical records. Some members of the 1492 team had also included their affiliation with the project on their LinkedIn pages. All such references were removed following CNBC’s original article post on July 26. No comment was given by Amazon when questioned about these series of events.
Despite the seeming cover ups and covertness surrounding the existence and operations of the 1492 team, Amazon’s venture into healthcare should perhaps not be surprising, as in May of this year, CNBC also reported that Amazon was considering entering the multibillion dollar pharmaceutical industry and that it had already started selling and delivering drugs to customers in Japan as of April 2017.
Apple’s Big Bets on Healthcare
Though Amazon’s efforts in the healthcare sector seem to be mostly exploratory at this point, Apple has been making tangible contributions to the sector and has made its intentions for expansion into the healthcare realm quite clear. Displaying its commitment to using technology to improve healthcare outcomes, Apple has developed several systems that are revolutionizing health care for patients and health care providers.
Apple has been talking to industry experts to determine patient and provider needs and its software responses show that it has been listening. Thus far, Apple has developed HealthKit, ResearchKit and CareKit – three big ticket software items that combine to provide patients and medical professionals with the tools needed to cover home care, hospital care and medical research.
As Christina Farr from Fast Company reports, HealthKit – the first in the lineup – is software designed to make the process of consensually gathering health data easier for developers. ResearchKit provides a framework for developing medical research applications while CareKit represents a collaborative patient management system that allows patients with chronic conditions to share data with their care team and get real time responses.
The software also has the added functionality of allowing patients to access their medical records – a step up from the traditional USB or disc approach to sharing patient data – and allows patient to keep track of their prescriptions and monitor the side effects associated with each drug.
Google’s Heavy Investment in Human Health
No stranger to the health care arena, Google is yet another corporate giant that is investing heavily in healthcare. Its investments in health can be traced to its launch of the personal health record system called Google Health. Though this launch was not as successful as hoped, the company is undeterred and has responded with several investment and strategic moves in its health care drive, starting with a rebrand of its life sciences arm to “Verily” in December of 2015.
By February of 2016, Verily remained in the spotlight by announcing that it was negotiating the lease of a 400,000 square foot facility formerly used by $9.7 million dollar pharmaceutical company Onyx Pharmaceuticals. An investment of this magnitude would not be made without a foreseeable return, and as such, one can only speculate what Google/Verily has up its sleeves with this acquisition.
Further, in January of 2017, Paul Sawyers at Venture Beats reported that Verily received a $800 million investment from Temasek – an investment company with a reported $180 billion in assets across a range of sectors including life sciences.
Verily has thus far designed products such as the “Liftware Level,” a spoon that allows persons with movement impairment to feed themselves independently. In addition to this, it has also designed glucose-monitoring contact lenses for diabetics, wrist computers that read diagnostic nanoparticles injected in the blood stream, implantable devices that modify electrical signals that pass along nerves and medication robots, according to The Motley Fool.
Google has also invested in early cancer diagnostics company GRAIL (also funded by Amazon), collaborated with Johnson and Johnson to develop a medical/surgical robot called Verb Surgical, and has backed aging research under its Alphabet arm.
Google DeepMind is yet another initiative by Google that uses mobile technology to send alerts to clinicians whenever a patient’s condition deteriorates. As described by the Deep Mind Health team, its aim is to help clinicians get patients from test to treatment faster, resulting in less lost lives and decreasing the instances of avoidable health conditions.
Digitizing the Future of Human Health
As expressed by former White House CTO Aneesh Chopra, the time is ripe for any company who can digitize the current healthcare industry for consumers. Google, Apple and Amazon all have the capital, the expertise and the reputation to be major contributors of healthcare technology.
As these tech behemoths explore the contributions they can make human health, it remains to be seen which one will grab the lion’s share of this trillion dollar industry. Comment below if you know of other ways in which Google, Apple or Amazon are covertly leveraging capital or expertise to develop ground-breaking healthcare technology.