Big tech's big goals for healthcare

Google parent company Alphabet and its many subsidiaries — including Verily, Calico and Deepmind — hold more than 150 patents in life sciences and operate a number of partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, but how has the tech giant been making an impact on healthcare?

To find out, The Medical Futurist took a deep dive into Google's healthcare ambitions and drew conclusions and predictions about all of big tech's — Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft — moves into the healthcare arena. Here are five highlights:

1. Microsoft could take on AI. Microsoft launched a healthcare division based in its Cambridge research hub that is exploring health applications for AI in September 2017.

2. Apple could turn Siri into a medical chat bot. After Apple began its massive Apple Heart Study with Stanford (Calif.) Medicine, the FDA cleared the first medical device accessory for the Apple Watch — Alivecor's Kardiaband. Shortly thereafter, the company began work on an advanced heart-monitoring feature for its smartwatch, and in January, Apple brought health records to users' iPhones. "After all these steps, is it so far-fetched to think that Apple might soon turn Siri into a medical chat bot that alerts you if something is wrong?" the report states. More recently, the company announced it is developing enhanced sensors to track Parkinson's disease via the Apple Watch.

3. Amazon could compete with pharma. Amazon has been operating a health team known as 1492 and recently snagged Boston-based Iora Health geriatrician Martin Levine, MD, who could be working on a number of 1492 projects. The e-commerce giant also weighed selling prescription drugs on its platform when it acquired numerous state pharmacy licenses, and analysts expected it could open drug stores in its Whole Foods stores. Others suggest Amazon could turn its artificial intelligence-powered digital assistant Alexa into a "digital doctor," Medical Futurist notes.

4. Amazon — with its partners Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase — could reduce healthcare costs. The trio announced its intent to form a joint healthcare company in January with the goal of cutting healthcare costs for their U.S. employees but has been vague as to how it will accomplish that. Atul Gawande, MD, a surgeon at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital, was selected to lead the company June 20.

5. Alphabet's diverse healthcare game plan shows it could tackle many aspects of the industry. Here are seven highlights on Alphabet's healthcare-centric efforts:

  • Alphabet has backed roughly 60 health-related enterprises since its inception in 2009, ranging from genetics to telemedicine.
  • GV, the company's venture arm, has invested in 23andMe, Oscar Health, Doctor on Demand and many more.
  • Medical Futurist notes an Ernst & Young report that found Alphabet filed 186 patents related to healthcare between 2013 and 2017.
  • One of Google's more recent health efforts is its collaboration with Fitbit, which aims to bring patient-generated data to the EHR via Google's Cloud for Healthcare division.
  • Its life sciences arm, Verily, is collecting genetic data to develop algorithms to power Google's search feature. Verily also is working on disease-monitoring technologies, including a digital contact lens that could monitor blood sugar levels.
  • Deepmind's AI platform seeks to use machine learning to mine health records as a way of improving health services, and it can already "process hundreds of thousands of pieces of medical information within minutes," the report states.
  • Calico is trying to crack the code on aging, with the ultimate goal of extending the human lifespan. With a $1.5 billion budget and about 100 employees, Calico has remained quiet about its work.

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