Technologies have always been a big part of the healthcare industry but a new wave appears to be rising, redefining the tech giants as companies with an active role to play in monitoring health and solving health-related problems. Over the course of the past five years, equity deals tied to healthcare which included top technology firms jumped in valuation by 874-percent – landing at over $2.7 billion over the course of 2017. It goes without saying that the technology companies involved in those deals are each focused primarily on the strengths they have already established within their respective operating industries. Moreover, with healthcare spending in the U.S. topping $3 trillion on a yearly basis, it would be difficult to argue that any of those organizations are taking part in such deals for purely altruistic reasons. With that said, the implications of a more directly involved technology industry on healthcare could go far beyond economic growth for those companies.
To better understand those implications, it is well worth taking a look back at both the known current projects of the technology giants and some of what has already been accomplished. After all, neither health tracking via various devices or technology's role in healthcare is a new thing. There are also, of course, cautionary tales associated with technology in healthcare, primarily stemming from online services which arguably have caused at least as much needless anxiety as they have increased users' understanding of their own health. Looking past that, in the meantime, consumers have been tracking various aspects of their health using first software and then dedicated health tracking hardware for years. On the consumer side, for example, Samsung has been including a heart rate sensor and S Health tracking software on nearly all of its top-tier Galaxy-branded devices since the Galaxy S5. There have been similar efforts from others, ranging from the first smartwatches and fitness tracking wearables right down to third-party applications that allow users to track their less healthy vices – such as smoking or drinking alcohol – or to record other health-related information. So, consumers are becoming more health conscious. However, at the same time, hospitals and healthcare networks, meanwhile, have benefited from data management and access tools afforded by technology giants, following an increasing focus on interconnectivity in nearly all walks of life.
There has been significant investment in healthcare solutions over the course of 2017. Among those, and more recently, Qualcomm revealed the next generation of its Capsule health platform had received approval to move forward. Capsule encompasses the idea that doctors and patients should be securely connected, with faster and more accurate access to, and input of, patient measurements and information for doctors and hospitals. Companies such as Google, Amazon, and Apple have not sat idly by, either. Google's parent company, Alphabet, has a number of subdivisions looking at how to best use the organization's data management and collection to serve healthcare. Perhaps the most well-known of those is Verily Life Sciences. This year, Alphabet acquired a smartphone-centered company called Senosis Health, presumably to augment Verily's efforts. At the same time, Amazon has its own, more secretive project under the name team 1492 and has invested heavily in startup companies such as Grail – which focuses on cancer detection. The online retail shipper is also expected, by some analysts, to jump into the pharmaceuticals industry at some point in the near future.
Not to be left out, Microsoft and Apple undertook endeavors of their own. Apple partnered with Stanford to determine whether smartwatches could be used to detect irregular heartbeats and Microsoft launched Healthcare NeXT with the goal of incorporating artificial intelligence and cloud-services into the field for healthcare providers and patients. Effectively across the board, numerous technologies companies have taken part in creating new software and hardware solutions ranging in scope from assisting patients and doctors interact to detecting disease. Those have also included the creation of healthcare training solutions via virtual, augmented, and mixed realities. In fact, simply too many entries, acquisitions, and partnerships between the healthcare industry and technology to list comprehensively. Each of those efforts, projects, and investments has pushed the boundaries of what it is possible to achieve in fields of medicine using technology.
It bears mention, of course, that there are bound to be plenty of concerns arising from efforts by technology companies and it is almost certainly a good idea to take any of the hype surrounding new and future innovations with a grain of salt. Privacy and data security, in addition to ethics and other more philosophical issues, will need to continue to be the chief concerns moving forward. There will also be concerns about the amount of power tech companies have over aspects of healthcare and whether those companies are being helpful or harmful. Moreover, many of those projects are, arguably, really just the beginnings of exploration into the full potential of modern technological advancements – with regard to how those can impact and improve both life expectancy and quality of life. That can and likely will lead to further, unforeseeable questions and concerns.
Bearing that in mind, there are a huge number of new innovations already well underway that could have profound effects on the healthcare industry. That includes new hardware and networking advancements in terms of wearables and smartphone-based sensors, as well as the looming advent of 5G networking. Coupled with new innovations and understanding about artificial intelligence, the rapid growth of the Internet of Things, and cloud computing, there is a lot of room for growth stemming from technology even without considering health care. There is plenty of growth to be had in the healthcare industry regardless of whether the tech giants take a direct interest. Beyond that, the tech giants are rigorously and actively invested in advancing associated fields and, as has been shown with essentially every field that technology companies involve themselves in, that could mean explosive growth.