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



    Transformational technologies

    The consumer tech giants bring more than just competition to the market, however. White and others point to a host of functionalities that the companies are mastering—functionalities that could transform how physicians work and how they deliver care.

    “These companies have really pushed forward with consumer-facing artificial intelligence, speech recognition and verbal communication with Alexa and Siri and Google Home. Those are really the strengths of those companies,” says Robert Rowley, MD, a healthcare and health IT consultant based in Hayward, Calif.

    Rowley says he expects tech companies to develop products for physicians that are more intuitive and easier to use, so they’re not tied to their keyboards doing data entry while treating patients—something doctors frequently cite as one of the biggest problems with current EHRs. 

    He also expects these tech companies to deliver AI components that can instantaneously analyze information to assist physicians better in identifying patterns and relevant findings in the data so as to recommend the best course of action for each patient.


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    “We can envision a future EHR where [the physician] can take his phone or Alexa into the exam room, can pre-populate that EHR, and where data from the patients’ devices can be [uploaded] to create documentation to help flesh out what’s going on,” he says. 

    Rowley explains that the ability for an EHR to take in and analyze such data can quickly provide physicians with a more complete picture of the patient’s conditions and medical needs—thereby helping to generate treatment plans that produce better outcomes. For example, a physician could upload from a patient’s smartphone his or her at-home blood sugar readings to see how well the patient’s diabetes is controlled outside the doctor’s office.


    Barriers to market entry

    Despite the buzz around what tech giants are doing in the healthcare space, the AMA’s Hodgkins cautions against expecting a technology revolution any time soon. “This is déjà vu all over again; there have been cycles of companies from outside healthcare coming in only to leave it,” he says.

    He cites Google Health, the personal health data records service that failed after a couple of years, to illustrate his observation. 

    Additionally, Hodgkins says, any company that wants to successfully deliver innovative technologies must understand the nuances of delivering care, regulatory requirements, insurance requirements and many other factors unique to the medical industry.

    Hodgkins says adding more products that can’t easily share data “will just amplify the problems out there today.” To help counter this, the AMA created its Integrated Health Model Initiative as a way to bring together the health and technology sectors to build a common data model.

    Others point to barriers to entering the health IT market such as delivering products that are compliant with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Halamka notes, for example, that Alexa, Google Home and Siri aren’t HIPAA- compliant, which limits what types of tasks can be performed using those forms of voice-recognition technologies.

    Kvedar, meanwhile, cautions against pinning too much hope on transformation from the Apple platform, pointing out that nearly half the world’s smartphones run on the Android platform—and Apple products don’t run on its competitor’s operating systems.

    He notes that CVS and Walgreens, both of which have developed mobile apps at the same time, are offering healthcare services in addition to pharmaceuticals, are just as likely to disrupt healthcare as any of the tech giants.

    As a result of such barriers, some technology analysts and experts say existing health IT vendors also could deliver innovations, because they already have a history of working with these industry-specific requirements.

    Still, Hodgkins thinks the consumer technology companies are the ones worth watching when it comes to disrupting the industry. “I do firmly believe that these consumer tech companies have something very important to offer,” he says, “and it has to do with how to best engage the patient/consumer, because we can’t be successful without that.” 

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