Summary List Placement
Apple is building new health sensors and algorithms.
With Fitbit, Google can help researchers study diseases and test the effects of new medicines.
Tech giants are pushing into remote care as phones, gadgets, and apps play a bigger role in the way companies and people manage health. Scientists are leaning on more iPhones and gadgets to collect data in clinical trials, for example. Startups using mobile apps to care for folks with chronic conditions are taking off.
And consumers are driving interest in health-tracking wearables, a market that’s expected to reach $29 billion by 2022.
In 2020, big tech made huge strides into “wearables,” telehealth, and other tech that facilitates virtual doctors’ visits and manages patients’ care while they’re at home. What they’re doing with the data varies from company to company, but it’s commonplace to use consumer-generated health information to improve internal algorithms at the very least.
Read more: Here are dozens of open healthcare jobs at big tech firms like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Verily. They reveal expansion plans and new priorities as tech giants push into the industry.
Here are their biggest bets on devices and programs that track people’s health.
Amazon is standing up a primary care business and investing in devices like Halo that can share data with doctors and electronic medical records.
Amazon is going deep into the business of health devices.
Alexa devices are HIPAA-compliant, serving health plans like Anthem, digital health companies like Livongo, and providers like the Mayo Clinic. They can read off post-operative instructions and blood sugar levels.
How much Alexa data shows up your Amazon shopping can depend on user consent. For example, customers can delete voice recordings or not have them saved in the first place. But other features, like product recommendations based on delivery orders through Alexa, are automated.
Amazon’s arrival to the wearables game, Halo, can measure exercise, sleep, and tone of voice. Users can opt to share their body fat data with doctors who use Cerner, an electronic medical records company. They can also link their Halo account with Cerner programs that reward exercise and sleep. In the future, the device could be used in clinical research or remote care, which is the case with Fitbit and the Apple Watch.
A review by The Washington Post called the device the most invasive it’s ever tested, sending, for example, 360-degree photos of barely-clothed participants to Amazon’s cloud for fat percentage analysis. It’s an optional feature, and Amazon says that it doesn’t sell Halo data or use it for marketing, product recommendations, or advertising. Tone speech samples and body scan images are automatically deleted after processing. But the tech giant can use other kinds of Halo data to improve the service’s machine learning algorithms.
Amazon also seems to be getting into the business of providing medical care more directly.
It’s building out Amazon Care, as Insider reported, from an employee pilot to a national business. It works through mobile apps to give employees remote and in-person visits with doctors and nurses, and grew out of an internal desire to cut healthcare costs. Amazon hasn’t confirmed its expansion plans, and it’s not clear whether the service will incorporate continuous data monitoring.
Amazon’s also working through Crossover Health, a California-based healthcare startup, to roll out coronavirus vaccines and set up clinics for employees near fulfillment centers in five cities. The clinics do mental health services, physical therapy, vaccines, preventive care, and more. Crossover’s approach includes telehealth, connecting physicians with people at home and tracking their progress towards health goals.
Apple’s more than 1 billion active devices act as health hubs, enabling third party apps and feeding data to doctors, health records, clinical research, and more.
With at least 1.4 billion active Apple devices, the $2.4 trillion tech giant has been making a move into healthcare for some time.
The new watch tracks heart rhythm, blood oxygen levels, standing time, exercise, and sleep, among other things. Apple watches have become commonplace in clinical studies, like in the ongoing research between the University of California Irvine and Anthem. The two are using the Apple Watch to study how blood oxygen measurements can be used to better manage asthma.
Apple is looking for more developers to build out the watch’s health capabilities by making new health sensors and algorithms, Business Insider found. One patent from 2018 hints at non-invasive glucose monitoring.
Watches, iPads, and iPhones are used by health plans and hospitals for clinical care and wellness programs. Third-party groups can also build health programs on the devices that can shepherd remote patient data to doctors, encourage healthy behavior, and perform ultrasounds.
Another effort concerns people’s personal health records. The service allows people to store their records in the Health app, quickly pulling up a lab report from Quest Diagnostics, for example. While the service doesn’t share data back to doctors, patients can track things like continuous blood pressure readings in the health app itself, and then relay that information to their providers verbally or otherwise.
Apple for its part says it doesn’t store health data unless it’s backed up to the cloud. Even then, the health information is encrypted and de-identified so that Apple can’t make sense of it. But third parties can collect health data depending on user settings under “data access & devices.”
Many of Apple’s acquisitions concern home care as well. Just in the past few years, the company acquired Beddit, a group that monitors sleeping, and Tueo Health, which tracks asthma.
With the Fitbit acquisition completed and a big telehealth partnership, Google is banking that the future of healthcare doesn’t depend on in-person doctors’ visits.
With the completed acquisition of Fitbit, Google is well positioned to get more involved in clinical trials and employee care for other companies, as Stat reported. Though Google has said that data from the devices won’t feed its advertising business.
Nearly 30 million people use the smartwatches for general wellness, whereas employers, health plans, health systems, and research institutions use the tech to monitor certain types of chronic conditions, create incentives for exercising, and more.
Google’s cloud division is working with Amwell, one of the world’s biggest telehealth vendors. While they haven’t said much about their work together, executives from both companies have described a vision for home-based care.
In August, Chris Sakalosky, Google Cloud’s top healthcare salesman, told Business Insider that the big opportunity for the partnership lies in crafting a more continuous relationship with patients, like using tech to monitor people’s health outside of individual appointments.
Alphabet’s investment vehicles like Sidewalk Labs, GV, and CapitalG have all backed digital health companies that prioritize remote care. CapitalG is focused in part on the next generation of Livongos, or companies that help people manage complex conditions with mobile apps and similar technologies.
Verily has gadgets and tech systems that oversee patients with chronic conditions, assist parents in tracking infant routines, and monitor things like blood sugar.
For Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences company, data collection and home care are a key part of its strategy.
It’s building a program for doctors and patients that works with tiny heart monitors and other gadgets to help with screening for atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heart rhythm, according to Verily’s website.
Verily also made a tech system for new parents in partnership with Pampers. Using a video monitor and activity sensor, info syncs to a mobile app that’s meant to help people understand their babies’ sleeping routines. Another program is looking for ways to improve sleep for people with sleep apnea.
The upstart also wants to use data broadly speaking, in tandem with its algorithms, to uncover new treatments, diagnose conditions sooner, and care for sick patients.
Its Study Watch has been deployed in various studies about multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. The watch aims to track patient data overtime to learn more about markers of disease progression. The upstart is also making a tiny glucose monitor and developed a temperature-measuring patch.
Project Baseline, an effort to collect comprehensive health information and enroll people in clinical trials, is used by pharmaceutical companies, research institutions, health systems, and biotechs, per Verily’s site. Some of its projects involve data monitoring in the home and ask participants to link their electronic health records.
Another one of Verily’s key bets is Onduo, a chronic care platform, uses medical devices and a mobile app to help people with Type 2 diabetes and potentially other conditions.