Big Data is shaping the future of healthcare, but regulators want to ensure that Big Tech plays fair with the private data of millions of patients
Big Tech is preparing to disrupthealthcare. They have our personal data, they have the analytics engine to extract intelligence from, now they are acquiring or building capabilities around it. Early this month Amazon announced plans to acquired One Medical for US$3.9 billion including debt.Apple is working to change how people think about, talk about, monitor, and focus on their health, the company said in a 60-page report titled “Empowering people to live a healthier day Innovation using Apple technology to support personal health, research, and car.”
Healthcare becomes Amazon Care
Amazon’s interest in healthcare isn’t trivial. In addition to its intention to buy One Medical, Amazon bought PillPack, an online pharmacy, in 2018 for $753 million and established Amazon Care, a health clinic for its employees. One Medical is a membership-based primary care service that promises customers “24/7 access to virtual care.” The company operates in a dozen major US markets, according to its website, and works with over 8,000 companies to offer One Medical health benefits to their employees.
The importance of Big Data in shaping the future of healthcare can be well understood from the alliance between Google and HCA Healthcare. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, HCA owns and operates 186 hospitals and approximately 2,000 sites of care, including surgery centres, freestanding emergency rooms, urgent care centres and physician clinics in 21 states and the United Kingdom.
Google’s patient care analytics
HCA Healthcare will be tapping Google’s data science expertise to develop new analytics capabilities around patient care and administrative workflows, the major health system announced this morning. As part of a new multiyear strategic partnership, HCA will be using Google Cloud’s healthcare data products – such as the Google Cloud Healthcare API and BigQuery–to support custom-built analytics tools for use in various settings, the companies said.
By doing so, HCA hopes to deliver algorithm-based alerts to clinical staff’s mobile devices when a patient’s condition takes a turn for the worse. These new capabilities and other workflow tools will come to the 90,000 mobile devices HCA said that it has already deployed across its caregiver teams.
The size of the US primary care market is estimated to be worth more than $266 billion in revenue, according to IBISWorld, an industry research company. For now, a good chunk of patients in the US are still served by legacy practices, where it can take weeks to get an appointment, forms must be filled out by hand, and billing is arcane and inefficient. It is not an experience patients like or want. If Amazon decides to offer the convenience of One Medical to its 200 million Prime members, incumbent providers will likely start losing patients in droves.
Health & fitness features on Apple devices
Apple’s strategy involves using its Apple Watch and iPhone customer base to disrupt healthcare. Per the company’s strategy documents Apple Watch and iPhone will offer features that focus on 17 areas of health and fitness, from heart health to sleep, women’s health, mobility, and more. These features, available in nearly 200 countries and territories, provide users with high-quality data gathered throughout the day and night and meaningful insights into their health. Apple believes that providing individuals with insights into their health and fitness empowers them to set and stick to personal health goals and, when necessary, seek guidance and care from their medical providers.
The Health app is available on every iPhone, and acts as a central and secure place for users to view all their health information. Users can now store over 150 different types of health data from Apple Watch, iPhone, and connected third-party apps and devices, in addition to available health records data from connected institutions in the US, UK, and Canada. They can also choose to share certain types of this health data with loved ones. Its APIs are enabling third-party developers to create new solutions that promote healthy lifestyles and innovation in health. There are now tens of thousands of apps on the App Store that use our HealthKit API, so they can incorporate data users choose to share from the Health app to offer innovative health and fitness experiences, with rigorous privacy and data security protocols. With users’ permission, these apps can also contribute data back to the Health app.
Data to Diagnosis
As Amazon admits, the strategy of big tech companies to grow into the health market follows the same strategy that has made them the most valuable companies on earth, based on the input they get from their customers. Collecting data to digitize and automate processes, connecting services on a single platform that were previously decentralized or disconnected. Finally, artificial intelligence has been trained thanks to this availability and the vast amount of information that puts its services at a level inaccessible to other companies or institutions.
At the moment, Google already has an AI certified by the European Union to diagnose skin, nail, or hair problems. named “DermAssist” and makes its assessment based on three pictures of the problem area. “Upload 3 photos of your health condition from your phone or computer and answer a few questions. Using information from millions of skin-related images, DermAssist looks for signs of various skin conditions in the photos and information presented.
Google claims its automated dermatologist can “diagnose over 90% of people’s most searched skin conditions.” It says the system is secure, that it doesn’t use the data it collects for advertising purposes, and that users can opt-out of having their information shared with third parties – which is what happens if they don’t.
Payment products for clinics
Technology companies are also offering their systems as payment products to clinics and healthcare facilities looking to digitize themselves or more easily access AI capabilities. As part of a strategy to promote this growing line of business, major technology companies are also promoting lines of medical research and scholarships for organizations that target vulnerable people or those without resources.
For example, Apple has a special program that gives away smartwatches to researchers who have ongoing studies, as well as puts them in contact with users who want to participate in them. “Thanks to this contribution and our sensor technology, researchers can study large and diverse groups, obtain frequent data and ultimately analyze data from a broad representation of the population,” says the multinational organization. Google participates in international cancer research.
For both companies, the way into the business was through phones, which for years have been filled with data collected through sports wristbands and smartwatches. The first step in the business, which was clearly unrelated to this end goal, was fitness-related services, which gradually spread into the healthcare field and incorporated more and more specific data.
Because Amazon basically doesn’t have a shortcut to the health data that’s key to the whole system, it’s making headway by acquiring companies like One Medical. With them, you can develop what you have, for example, the most powerful artificial intelligence system in the world and complete user profiles of a large part of the Western population.
“We love inventing to make what should be easy, and we want to be one of the companies that helps dramatically improve the healthcare experience for years to come. With One Medical’s technology and human-centered approach to healthcare, we. believe we can and help more people get better care, when and how they need it. We look forward to fulfilling this long-term mission.”
Regulators are watching
At the moment, these types of services from large technology multinationals are more focused on the US market, where cheaper access to rapid diagnostics is a big plus for large masses of the population in a system dominated by high-cost private insurance and a lack of public alternatives. Moreover, the tech giant’s business in Europe is complicated – at least for now – by greater restrictions on the use of personal health-related data.
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) defines health data as “special” and establishes specific protections. Among them, is a complete prohibition of their use without the clear and informed consent of the person, as well as many restrictions on their advertising profiles or other types of inclusion. In addition, it stipulates that the companies that handle them must give users access to the information about them at any time, and must also delete it if they request it. In the US, the Anti-Trust departments too could be watching these developments with a hawk’s eye to ensure that Big Tech plays fair with the private data of millions of patients who are also users of their platforms.
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