Is Silicon Valley hijacking the healthcare space?

The tech giants of the world have seen a healthcare system rife with customer dissatisfaction, ever-rising costs, and organizational inefficiencies, and they are eager to disrupt.

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From medication delivery to health records, tech companies are keen to move into a market they see as promising high returns on investment. In comparison with the tech industry it is cautious and slow to change. Privacy and security are major concerns, while the complexity and sheer size of pharma represents a challenge as much as an opportunity for Silicon Valley.1

Companies grounded in innovation but without long-built reputations in healthcare have less to lose when it comes to disrupting systems and proposing novel healthcare delivery solutions. But can they really achieve their aims without a deep understanding of healthcare systems? While skepticism exists it certainly hasn’t stopped the tech giants from venturing into the space to try.Apple for instance recently announced their next big software update: Health Records. This promises to allow users to view, manage and share their medical records, bringing together medical data from participating hospitals and clinics across the US and giving the user digital control over their health data.3 In a system where integration and transfer of information between providers can be a major issue, this sounds like a huge step forward. Amazon is also keen to make a splash in healthcare and has been rumored to be exploring possibilities for selling drugs online—utilizing their logistical expertise to revolutionize healthcare delivery.3 While it’s too early to imagine a world where you can order your prescription with your Prime account, the pharmacy market still represents an enormous opportunity for the online retail giant. What’s stopping Amazon from becoming the ultimate buyer of cheap generics? By using their buying power it could offer customers discount generics, which could attract uninsured patients and those on high-deductible plans.4

Although it’s unlikely, if the retail giant did eventually master the ability to tackle the rigorous efficacy, safety, privacy and data protection requirements of the healthcare system, its vast logistics operation would greatly reduce the need for pharmacies and drug distributors through mail-based drug delivery. If this were ever possible, they could then provide a straightforward customer experience using existing products, where you could simply ask Alexa to refill your prescription from the comfort of your own home.4

We shouldn’t disregard Uber in the healthcare field either, as they strive to remove transportation as a barrier to care with Uber Health. The dashboard allows HCPs to book rides for patients to and from their appointments—even if they don’t have the Uber app, or a smartphone. It hopes to be a cheaper and more reliable option than most non-emergency medical transportation, and may have the potential to reduce the number of missed appointments by providing easy access to physicians.1

These changes to healthcare logistics would undoubtedly lead to a more connected industry as a whole. But with increased connectivity and collection come concerns about privacy and data overload. Tech giants have a wealth of expertise with collecting and processing massive amounts of data, as well as processes and knowledge around integration of applications into multiple systems.5 Can they now apply this expertise to healthcare systems? Google sibling Verily is using their data-crunching skills for the ambitious Project Baseline,
where they plan to monitor the health of 10,000 people for four years, to establish a baseline standard of good health. The aim over time is to be able to spot people who would benefit from preventative care measures, managing patients early and avoiding the need for expensive treatments further down the line.2

Apple isn’t shying away from large-scale medical research projects either. After recruiting consumers through their smartphones, the Apple Heart Study intends to determine whether an app for the Apple Watch can accurately detect irregular heart rhythms, in particular those linked to atrial fibrillation. If an irregular heart rhythm is detected, a notification will be sent to the user, along with the offer of a free video consultation with a doctor—again, delivering healthcare to the consumer in the comfort of their own home.6

We often hear about artificial intelligence (AI) in the news, and can already see how it’s starting to transform the way we live our lives in the form of increasingly present smartphone assistants such as Siri. But is this the case in healthcare? Tech giant Microsoft certainly thinks so, as in 2017 they announced their Healthcare NeXT initiative, which aims to develop medical products that use AI and cloud services such as speech recognition to record doctor-patient conversations. One project done in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre involved a virtual mobile assistant that would take notes during a consultation, analyze the content, and send a summary to the patient’s electronic medical record—something that would equally benefit both doctor and patient.6

We can see that Silicon Valley are committed to disrupting the healthcare industry, but they still have much to learn when it comes to the intricacies and highly regulated nature of healthcare systems. It may take decades for tech companies to independently develop a comprehensive understanding of the healthcare industry. So why not collaborate? If the healthcare and tech industries share their wealth of expertise with one another, they could have the potential to deliver innovative, patient-centric care, while navigating through the complexities of the healthcare system together.5,7

Discover more in our first whitepaper of the respiratory_care v2.0 series, ‘Technology and Healthcare: A call for collaboration’, and stay informed on healthcare innovation with our monthly updates.


1.Why Apple, Amazon, and Google are making big health care moves. Available at: Accessed: May 2018.

2.Embattled tech companies charge deeper into healthcare. Available at: Accessed: May 2018.

3.Apple and Amazon’s moves in health signal a coming transformation. Available at: Accessed: May 2018.

4.This Is How Amazon Could Invade the Pharmacy Business. Available at: Accessed: May 2018.

5.Tech Giants Collaborate and Disrupt in Life Sciences Industry. Available at: Accessed: May 2018.

6.How Big Tech Is Going After Your Health Care. Available at: Accessed: May 2018.

7.How pharma can win in a digital world. Available at: Accessed: May 2018.