While healthcare as a vertical is not new for most of the world’s largest companies, their brand presence within the industry is significantly increasing. Of course this includes GE, Philips, and Siemens, but also Amazon, Google, and Microsoft for cloud (among other services), Cisco for wireless infrastructure, Qualcomm for electronic vitals capturing, Verizon for patient connectivity to health-related environments, IBM for advanced analytics, and Uber for mobility. And while not exhibiting, Apple should also be included for work on Health Kit, the Cerner collaboration for extending EHR access, and now AC Wellness.
Following are additional details concerning recent activity from these vendors:
- Amazon - Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides healthcare organizations in nearly every country with relatively low-cost IT infrastructure in the public cloud. AWS provides access to analytics and archiving capabilities along with security and privacy requirements. Tangentially, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase announced they are forming an independent health care company for their employees in the United States.
- Apple - Apple is also preparing to expand into healthcare for its employees and their dependents with a network of clinics called AC Wellness. The clinics are expected to open during spring 2018.
- Cisco – Cisco’s contact center technology is used for patient-provider contact through video and voice. Cisco also enables rapid, secure access to data including accessing PACS and VNA.
- Google - Recently expanded Google Cloud services with the launch of the Cloud Healthcare API to address interoperability challenges in healthcare data. The new API provides scalable infrastructure to ingest and manage healthcare data types including HL7, FHIR and DICOM. Providers can use that data for analytics and machine learning in the cloud.
- IBM Watson Health – IBM’s advanced analytics services are used for operational productivity in addition to accelerating discovery and decision support.
- Microsoft - Using the Microsoft Azure cloud computing service, researchers and clinicians can access genomic processing services. Microsoft is collaborating with St. Jude, where genome therapy is part of the precision medicine practice for neonatal care and oncology units. St. Jude is uploading anonymized genomes to public data repositories.
- Qualcomm - Capsule Vitals Plus leverages advanced connectivity to collect, analyze and integrate vital signs, clinical observation, and other contextual data with the goal of improving timelines and accuracy of bedside information.
- Uber Health - Uber Health enables healthcare organizations to coordinate rides for patients, caregivers and staff. Through a web dashboard, healthcare providers are able to schedule rides in an effort to reduce no-shows and increase on-time appointments.
- Verizon – Verizon is working on an end-to-end solution for connecting patients to health-related environments. This includes maps, wayfinding, in-hospital tracking, virtual consultations, appointment setting and tracking, retail pharmacy targeted marketing, and prescription filling.
Why is this activity important?
- Data security can no longer be a reason for maintaining the status quo and avoiding innovation, and the big cloud providers are already doing security better than individual health systems. As a means of reducing healthcare expenditure, providers can avoid reinventing the wheel and push forward with more patient engagement and lighter on-premises infrastructure. 25% of healthcare data is already in the cloud, and more savings can be had from leveraging cloud services.
- There is no end to digital health innovation and accessing this innovation may allow providers to focus on care delivery, connecting with patients and their care team, improving outcomes, and utilizing consumer generated data to inform a more complete analysis of their patients.
- There is also much innovation at a clinical level with the management of structured and unstructured data, feeding CDS, PHM tools, and AI. Siemens, Philips, and GE are working on solutions for improved clinical support, in addition to most application layer developers. AI started with genomics in oncology, and is now moving into gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, neuro, and respiratory disease. The previously untapped information in images, audio, video, narrative text, environmental data, and other unstructured content is beginning to find its way into AI programs that may provide insights into a wide variety of patient care. Healthcare providers should consider developing data governance principals to enable current quality reporting with an eye to advanced analytics in the near future.
- All of this activity can help to complete the continuum of care with better connectivity. Cooperation and interoperability is necessary for HIEs to work, and currently many do not despite much government funding. In another push to correct this, the US Government has announced the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA). Once final, TEFCA will define standards of interoperability that will enable providers to connect to any health information network and then automatically participate in nationwide HIE.
The scale of the US health system does pose challenges. However, this is not a reason to avoid innovation in care provision. IHS Markit estimates that the global market for EHR, PACS, VNA and IE software and associated services is currently $19 billion, growing to $24 billion in 2021. In developing markets this revenue is already shifting toward maintenance as greenfield opportunities diminish. While there is a need to reduce overall expenditure, which will impact the HCIT vendors, there is a long-term opportunity for those that can provide services that enable providers to more effectively manage their patient populations while also delivering personalized care. Obviously, broad change will not happen overnight, but there is growing momentum toward innovation that is unlikely to diminish. Expect a big driver for this change to come from big tech companies that see opportunities in the multi-trillion-dollar healthcare industry.