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    Are Apple and Amazon tech ‘saviors’ or same old story?


    late January, Apple announced its launch of a personal health record app that will bring together health data generated by the user and integrate it with the user’s EHR data—provided that person is also a patient at one of 12 participating medical centers it is partnering with.

    Likewise, Amazon works with healthcare institutions, with offerings such as cloud-based products designed specifically to facilitate medical work, including genomics research, biotech and pharma projects, and healthcare analytics for providers. It also works with institutions such as Beth Israel Deaconess to pilot Alexa and other technologies in medical settings.

    Amazon aims to use technology to improve healthcare delivery for its own employees as well. The company recently announced a partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase to create a new independent healthcare entity that will provide services for their employees. In announcing the move, the companies said they’ll rely on technology to provide “simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.” However, the companies did not provide further details on how that they plan to do that, noting that the effort is in the early planning stages.


    RELATED READING: 7 health IT trends to watch in 2018


    Alphabet, too, has targeted the healthcare market. Google, for instance, offers analytics products that leverage its vast data sets and artificial intelligence technologies, and secure workplace tools such as encryption and storage through its G Suite for Healthcare. Meanwhile, Verily Life Sciences LLC, another Alphabet company, offers tools for collecting, organizing, and analyzing health data.

    There are reports, however, that these companies have a growing interest in offering more products and services designed specifically for the medical field. For example, news stories appearing in 2017 from multiple places, including Business Insider, CNBC, and Reuters, report that Amazon acquired wholesale pharmacy licenses in several states, indicating that the company could expand into pharmaceuticals.

    An October 23, 2017, item on CNBC.com quotes Apple COO Jeff Williams saying the healthcare industry is “ripe for change” and that he “can’t think of anything more significant” than using technology to advance healthcare. 

    Apple did not respond to a request for comment, while Amazon responded that it has “a longstanding practice of not commenting on rumors and speculation.”

    A Google spokesman, in a written statement, pointed to the company’s online information about its work in the healthcare field, adding that “Google is doing a lot of AI research for healthcare, using machine learning (that is, training computers to learn by example, rather than being explicitly programmed) to improve outcomes.”


    Improvements expected

    Many experts agree that the industry has lagged other sectors when it comes to using IT to create efficiencies, eliminate waste, and drive improvements.

    As a result, institutions and individual employees, including physicians, have ended up with systems that don’t work well, are difficult to use or both. Doctors frequently complain that EHR systems—with their data-entry needs—take their focus off of patients, that entering and retrieving information takes too long, and that they don’t easily share information with other systems.

    “Physicians tell us the current tools are clunky. We don’t have interoperability and we can’t use information across different systems,” says Joel White, executive director of Health IT Now, a coalition of patient groups, provider organizations, employers, and payers supporting health IT to improve patient outcomes.

    White and others say the possible entry of Amazon, Apple, and other consumer-focused tech companies could bring IT system improvements that have so far eluded healthcare.

    White says the tech giants bring their strong understanding of what users want out of their technologies and the ability to deliver highly intuitive products and products with user-friendly interfaces. They also bring capital. “It all says to me that this could be incredibly disruptive,” White adds.

    He says that even mere speculation around what Amazon, Alphabet, Apple, and others might do in healthcare has brought increased competition and thus put more pressure on existing health IT vendors to deliver better products.

    “What we’re already seeing is the market changing in response. Competition is awesome; it forces people to up their game,” White says, noting, for example, that some  EHR vendors say they’re putting more resources toward addressing physician complaints about poor usability.

    Next: Transformational technologies

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