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Tech giants bet on Health AI and Telemedicine

In recent years, it has been clear that big tech companies like Google, Apple and Facebook want to have a lasting presence in the healthcare industry. It is not only a lucrative industry but also a means to gain trust among their users.

Apple, Google and, of course, Facebook blatantly mishandled user data and/or featured vulnerabilities in their services that could compromise those data. The need to rebuild their public image becomes ever more pressing if they want to stay relevant in the tech industry; and one way to do so is through healthcare.

To work on their public image they can couple their technological expertise with their user base to benefit the healthcare landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic offered one such possibility, with Google and Apple collaborating on a privacy-focused contact tracing app. But their ambitions extend beyond the pandemic, as we elaborated in our e-book. This article on the other hand aims to supplement the e-book with recent news and developments around trends that companies have adopted since we released it.

Amazon’s dive into telemedicine
In recent weeks, Amazon’s healthcare efforts have seen both ups and downs. The major down being the end of Haven, a partnership it started three years ago along with Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan Chase. This venture aimed to provide health care services and insurance at a lower cost to those companies’ employees; with the potential to expand to other firms as well.

This setback did not mean that Amazon is backing away from healthcare. On the contrary, Amazon Care, the company’s telehealth branch, expanded into 21 more states in the U.S. Previously, the service was only available to Amazon’s own customers but a few weeks ago, the company announced that Amazon Care will also expand to other companies across the U.S. in the summer.

Walmart’s ambitious healthcare plans
One might be surprised to see a multinational retail corporation like Walmart venturing in healthcare. However, the American firm has been steadily building a foothold in this industry in recent years without any signs of slowing down. In the U.S., Walmart established 600 COVID-19 testing sites; is planning to roll out COVID-19 vaccines in 11 states; and has already opened 20 standalone healthcare centers complete with primary care, emergency care, labs and more. It plans to open 15 more this year. By 2029, Walmart’s board even plans to scale to 4,000 clinics.

Their aim is to make quality healthcare more affordable and accessible; and their advantage in potentially achieving that is that 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store.

IBM might be distancing itself from the industry
Watson Health, IBM’s A.I. healthcare arm, has met with some considerable challenges in recent years. It received wide criticism following reports that questioned its diagnostic prowess while pointing out potential risks to patients’ safety. It also faced management issues and had to lay off part of its workforce in 2018. In early 2021, news emerged that IBM is considering to sell Watson Health altogether.

The company invested considerable resources into Watson Health which, despite past issues, continued to yield promising results. In February, researchers at the branch shared their findings after training their algorithm to predict with 75% accuracy who among elderly patients could develop Alzheimer’s.

IBM abandoning these efforts comes at a surprise but can be attributed to reluctance among healthcare workers to adopt such A.I. tools.

Apple using the Apple Watch to make patients the point of care
Apple entered the healthcare market later than its competitors but is working on acquiring a significant share of the market, if its recent moves offer any indication. To validate the efficacy of its Apple Watch, the company has teamed up with various institutions for its clinical accuracy. One of the most recent ones showed that the cardiac metrics it monitors is as good as clinical tests. The results suggest that the Apple Watch could thus be adequate for remote monitoring of elderly patients with cardiovascular disease.

The Tech Giant is showing further interest in healthcare A.I. as it is reportedly developing machine learning algorithms to detect certain conditions early.

Small steps and big fixes by Microsoft
Software giant Microsoft has a complicated history with healthcare. In 2019, it pulled the plug on HealthVault, its online personal health record system which launched in 2007. Its line of fitness tracker, the Microsoft Band, also followed a similar fate. But instead of giving up, Microsoft refocused its efforts towards cloud computing and A.I. in healthcare.

Earlier this year, the company released its Vaccine Registration and Application System aimed at assisting the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the U.S. However, users encountered issues with the platform which were addressed with a new offering.

In the U.K. Microsoft teamed with 13 startups working on A.I. tools to help the country’s healthcare sector.

Google’s healthcare branches Alphabet and Verily are very active
Whether it’s in medical A.I. or fitness tracking, Google’s presence in healthcare is palpable through its numerous arms which are forging ahead in the field. Verily, Google’s Alphabet healthcare branch, announced its partnership with Otsuka and Click Therapeutics in February for a clinical trial that will study the effects of digital interventions on patients with major depressive disorder. The research project will leverage Verily’s Project Baseline platform.

Alphabet’s Verily also announced another partnership in March with Highmark Health for the Living Health Initiative. The latter aims to redesign healthcare delivery with a focus on patients. This collaboration will employ Verily’s digitally-enabled tools for personalized chronic care management of conditions like congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The graphics processing unit (GPU) manufacturer has been making strides in the healthcare industry; and even has a dedicated healthcare branch to offer solutions that its computing platform can deliver in this area.

Its latest foray in healthcare involves a partnership with Harvard University to develop an A.I.-based genome research toolkit. It is even touted as being able to sequence a whole genome in 30 minutes.

The developments touched upon here show that tech companies will play a major role in the future of care with the products they can bring to the table. However, they won’t be as successful in, say, creating a different form of healthcare system altogether like Amazon attempted with Haven.

What they can do is innovate in this sphere with their own unique expertise, services and user base. To learn more about how they are leveraging these assets for a share of the healthcare market, we wrote an e-book dedicated to the subject. The e-book itself is still up-to-date about the high-level directions and we would encourage you to grab a copy. The Medical Futurist

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