The Big Business of Healing

The Big Business of Healing

A global opportunity of over US$8 trillion emerges, as offerings around medical technology and digital healthcare witness a pandemic boom

The pandemic has unlocked new value propositions in several industries – MedTech, or offerings around medical technology and healthcare, being one of the most promising. According to some estimates it is a global opportunity of over US$8 trillion. As telehealth, wearables and digital health tracking surged in 2020, spurred by the need for physical distancing, data became available in massive volumes. It was just the kind of Big Data that technologies companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft (GAFAM) were looking for to build their analytic engines to power their entry into the healthcare business.

According to a CB Insights report, venture capital funding to healthcare companies has also surged. In fact, healthcare funding had a record quarter in Q1’21, where companies raised a total of $31.6 billion.  Big tech has invested in deals worth a cumulative $6.8 billion since the start of 2020. The convergence of healthcare with artificial intelligence (AI) is creating amazing new applications, that will enable medical professionals to monitor, analyse, forecast, and take preventive measures to ensure timely intervention that will save countless lives.

All the Big Names

Following in the footsteps of Apple, Google, and Amazon, Facebook is rumoured to be developing a smartwatch of its own. Like others, Facebook’s initial smartwatch is expected to include sensors aimed at capturing health-related data points. Initial designs are focused on heart rate monitoring. Facebook has launched a preventative health solution in the US and a provider search tool to help users find affordable care in their communities. Meanwhile, the company’s Oculus team is working with teaching hospitals to deploy VR-based medical education tools.

Microsoft is working on ambient documentation that used deep-learning AI to convert doctor-patient conversations into standardized structured notes per established documentation standards. AI generated notes go through a brief quality review process to check for accuracy, omissions, and appropriateness before being delivered to the clinician.

Apple is going far beyond connecting consumers to their medical records. The company wants to aggregate data, secure it, create novel data points of its own, and then orchestrate consumer-direct data sharing with clinicians and researchers. The company is actively exploring how it might bring its own health and wellness services directly to consumers. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO famously claimed that the company biggest contribution to mankind will be about health. He said: ‘What was Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind?’ it will be about health. We’re democratizing it. We’re taking what has been with the institutions and empowering the individual to manage their health.”

Apple is focused on health and wellness services as its most attractive line of business. It could be the next big tech vendor directly competing with care providers. Today, Amazon is the only big tech vendor offering health services to consumers. That could quickly change as Apple ramps up its subscription business if it can mature its virtual care strategy.

AI in healthcare

AI has the potential to automate administrative tasks and close critical insight gaps across the healthcare value chain. Microsoft is building a data processing pipeline purpose built to support this transformation. Healthcare organizations were late to Cloud migration, but demand has ramped up with the proliferation of industry Cloud offerings.

Microsoft is investing heavily to ensure its well positioned in the emerging market. Innovation in consumer electronics is supporting a wide range of use cases in digital health. Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect and HoloLens are both finding applications in healthcare. By combining Power Platform, Azure, and Teams to support AI, automation, and low-code app development efforts. This tech stack comes with architecture plans to address common innovation use cases in healthcare.

The company is investing and partnering to position itself as a leader in how to implement AI safely and fairly in healthcare. Microsoft lacks a wearable, though it is rumoured to be exploring its options in that space. Instead, Microsoft is focused on growing its Azure Kinect and HoloLens device sales. Healthcare vendors have the potential to be an active buyer if the ROI can be proven.

Data Analysis is the key

Perhaps no other company is better positioned to extract actionable intelligence from health data than Google. It fields 70,000 health-related searches per minute. “Healthcare offers the biggest potential over the next 5 to 10 years for using artificial intelligence to improve outcome,” explained Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet, the company which owns Google.

Google has developed models that analyse retinal images and identify more than 50 eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. Google is building models to detect a wide range of conditions… Ophthalmology Cardiovascular disease Anemia Retinal scans have also proven to be valuable in assessing cardiovascular risk. Google is working on models that predict heart attack and stroke. Retinal images are also supporting work to quantify haemoglobin levels and identify anaemia.

Google’s consumer health efforts span the breadth of its organizational chart, with Search, Fitbit, Android, and Nest. The company has been much slower to market in some areas – such as medical record data aggregation services or atrial fibrillation alerts – but first to market with others, like DermAI. Behind Microsoft, Google has the most publicly disclosed healthcare clients leveraging its industry Cloud solutions, the CB Insights report claims.

One of the most widespread uses of big data in the healthcare domain is Electronic Health Record systems (EHR) in the US. It allows keeping digital documentation such as medical history, demographics, laboratory results, and diagnoses. Amazon launched Amazon Care, Amazon Pharmacy, and AmazonDx in the past year, all consumer-focused healthcare services. The company also unveiled AWS for Health, a suite built to support data science efforts within enterprise healthcare organizations.

Drug distribution too!

When in 2017 Amazon received drug distribution licenses in over 10 US states, the news sent shockwaves through the pharmaceutical industry. The company had already sold over-the-counter medications in the US before. Now it could sell prescription drugs online, further disrupting the distribution chain. Through private label drug manufacturer Perrigo Amazon also produces its own line of OTC drugs.

Amazon’s pharmaceutical plans further expanded when it acquired start-upPillPack for nearly $1 billion in 2018. PillPack is itself an “online pharmacy” that delivers medicine directly to its clients. This was a clear indication of its commitment to break into the remote healthcare industry; a commitment that was put on display recently. Amazon is working hard to make AWS a top tier contender in the industry Cloud market. Cloud computing in healthcare is projected to rise from $20.2 billion in 2017 to $35 billion in 2022. The reason for such tremendous growth is the need to store a high volume of data at a lower cost for health organizations.

The digital transformation of healthcare is the biggest trend of the pandemic. Whether telemedicine, AI, or Cloud computing, everything related to remote monitoring and data management will peak in the upcoming year. Additionally, targeted, and personalised care for critical diseases will be another trend that is likely to increase even more in the coming years.

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