The Big 4 technology companies are making big moves into the healthcare sector. How will this affect healthcare institutions and how can they respond?
Wearable devices that can track your heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen level – the stuff of science fiction until just a few years ago – are already available today. These can calculate the amount of calories you actually burn (the horror!) to an astonishing degree and even detect brainwaves. Such technological wonders have become so commonplace today that you don’t even think twice about it, yet here we are.
A decade earlier, offering these devices as an outpatient service care would have created a massive revenue stream for healthcare providers, while providing health data and critical insights into a patient’s well-being in their day-to-day lives.
However, healthcare providers aren’t in control of that data, Big Tech is. And the potential shown by these technologies have put the two large behemoth industries, the healthcare and big tech on a war path. Or has it?
First, let’s talk a little on the latest developments in the healthcare sector by big tech.
Amazon Care, Amazon’s public foray into healthcare had sparked a heated discussion on the entry of big tech into healthcare and how it would impact healthcare service providers. There have already been several cases of large technology companies exploring small healthcare applications over the last few years but this is certainly the biggest.
Amazon in fact, had already been developing telehealth innovations by making use of their advantage with cloud services and voice tech as well as their supply chain and distribution dominance. Meanwhile Apple’s approach with consumer-facing products like the iPhone and Apple Watch was seen as the first steps to create wearable networks of sensors that collect health data for medical research.
Google hasn’t been sitting still either. The tech giant has made serous investments in researching the potential of using smartphone sensors as monitoring devices and investing in numerous healthcare startups and ventures. In fact, they have a dedicated research team at Verily Life Sciences, which conducts studies in telemedicine and disease prevention. Microsoft meanwhile has been using their Azure cloud services to focus on enterprises and improve healthcare outcomes, including the launch of their conversational AI for healthcare solution.
These moves were being driven in part by the opportunities of transforming an industry ripe for disruption, using technological advancements in cloud services, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things. And the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated this disruption, with many more tech companies joining the movement.
In fact, a recent Gartner report showed that by 2025, 50 percent of all healthcare delivery organisations will include material contributions from digital giants such as Alphabet, Apple and Amazon in their clinical diagnostic or treatment processes.
By 2025, 50 percent of all healthcare delivery organisations will include material contributions from digital giants such as Alphabet, Apple and Amazon in their clinical diagnostic or treatment processes.
It is safe to say that traditional healthcare organisations and industry incumbents are in danger of being pushed out. The big tech giants possess certain advantages that can be seen as threats, or opportunities from a healthcare provider’s perspective.
One of the big advantages that the big tech firms have is in customer service. Over the last couple of decades, they have launched numerous products in the digital space and have perfected the art and science of customer service.
When it comes to consumer-facing conversational interfaces, the market share is pretty much dominated by the big players. Amazon’s Alexa has become a household name in voice based interactions, while Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant are also used widely in mobile devices.
In the instant messaging landscape, the most common applications are Facebook’s Messenger and Facebook's own WhatsApp. This makes it difficult for new entrants and other industry players in healthcare to ignore these tech companies services.
The dominance of the tech firms does not mean that there are no opportunities to take advantage of. Partnering with the big tech firms can help smaller players take advantage of their existing advanced infrastructure, especially in the areas of cloud, data and analytics services. And there will also be opportunities to leverage their existing capabilities in the consumer and personal technologies ecosystem.
To make sure that your organisation is ready for the next generation of healthcare, swift action is indeed needed. You can either ignore the tech giants and focus on protecting your market share, resist their entry and develop your own capabilities, or embrace them by identifying opportunities to partner. Specifically, there are a few areas you can focus on.
To stay relevant, healthcare organisations need to and have begun adopting a consumer-first strategy that prioritises consumer experience in every product and initiative. When introducing new digital healthcare products, think of how it can improve convenience for end users and provide them with personalised services.
For example, if you are planning to deploy chatbots to automate tasks, start small with pilot projects and evaluate how this is improving customer satisfaction. Sooner or later, one of the big tech firms will launch a healthcare-focused chatbot or expand the share of their chatbot technologies into the healthcare market as well. You should at least have some experience with such a technology by then that you are not completely reliant on one of their solutions.
No matter how you react and adapt to the entry of big tech giants in healthcare, one thing is certain; You will need to get some fundamental preparation work done right.
As a starting point, take the effort to organise your knowledge base – clinical protocols and pathways, electronics medical records, internal wikis, communication channels including email, phone and messaging among others.
Organising this knowledge can provide you with a unique advantage that is specific to the services you provide. It will also help you be agile and go to market faster, irrespective of whether you choose to create your own digital healthcare products or partner with one of the big tech giants.
Healthcare service delivery is fast evolving to be more and more customer-centric. This requires organisations to develop ecosystems that bring together partners, tools and platforms to work seamlessly for the customer.
To start building these ecosystems, you will need a strong data and analytics strategy that is based on APIs and interoperability. The advanced data and analytical capabilities of digital giants do give them an advantage. They can leverage this data to develop new healthcare products that are personalised and easy to use.
For healthcare incumbents, such capabilities are still aspirational. What you can do now is to perform an assessment of your data and analytics architecture by reviewing the accessibility, volume, variety and quality of data to see how you can partner with other organisations.
The decision to compete or partner with digital giants comes with so many nuances. To make sure you are proceeding in the right direction, educate your leadership team about these nuances. Identify the business issues around data and IP ownership, trade-offs that will need to be made and technical requirements that will need to be considered.
To make matters easier, develop a business case when presenting to your leadership team, covering costs, benefits, resources required and BAU plans. You will also need to plan a strategy involving a dedicated cross-functional team composed of IT, clinical and business experts.
KeyReply has been working with healthcare institutions to deploy conversational AI solutions for various use cases. To explore how we can help you prepare for disruption in healthcare, get in touch with us today.