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Amazon Leading Silicon Valley Into Health Care Market

- By Barry Cohen

The 1979 disco hit "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" might be the theme song at Amazon (AMZN). The online seller of consumer goods with a stratospheric market cap of $833 billion and share price near $1,700 is hungering to make its mark in a new industry: health care. Odds are in its favor given its track record.

Amazon's virtual Alexa can seemingly do everything but cook your dinner, although that may be coming. Now the company has patented a new version of the virtual assistant to reveal when you're not feeling well. That's not all. Alexa will be able to tell from your voice whether you're under stress. Oh yeah, it can also order your medications.

If you're coughing and sneezing, it's no longer necessary to call your grandmother for a remedy. "Alexa first suggests some chicken soup ... and then offers to order cough drops on Amazon," according to an October 2018 article in AI Healthcare.

Last year, Amazon announced a venture with Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) on a nonprofit health care unit to find ways to improve care for employees who get their health insurance from the three firms. After a shakeout period, they plan to offer it to other companies.

Amazon also bought the internet pharmacy PillPack for just under $1 billion. PillPack lets users buy drugs in pre-made doses. Its PharmacyOS helps manage patient data and figure out how to balance meds together in safe doses for its customers.

One health care expert thinks PillPack will have a slow uptake. PillPack "is a subset of the broader retail market, so the growth will be marginal, not dramatic," said F. Randy Vogenberg, Ph.D., RPh, principal at the Institute for Integrated Healthcare in South Carolina. He made his comments during a panel session to discuss Silicon Valley's move into health care that was hosted and published by First Report Managed Care.

Amazon also introduced on a blog post Amazon Comprehend Medical, "... a new HIPAA-eligible machine learning service that allows developers to process unstructured medical text and identify information such as patient diagnosis, treatments, dosages, symptoms and signs, and more." With the technology, Amazon enters the health care informatics market, joining heavyweights like UnitedHealth Group (UNH), Inovalon (INOV) and several start- ups. Early customers include Roche (OTCPK:RHHBF).

And there's more. The company also started a new health clinic for employees to control costs and test some of its new technologies. Apple (AAPL) has begun a similar program.

Alphabet (GOOGL) wants to get in on the action too. Last November Google hired Dr. David Feinberg to oversee its health care strategy. Feinberg was formerly CEO of privately owned Geisinger, an integrated health services company.

According to an article in Healthcare IT News, Alphabet's health care projects include Verily, its life sciences division; DeepMind, which develops artificial intelligence; Google Brain, which also works on deep learning AI; Google Cloud, which hired a major health system CEO of its own early last year; Nest, which makes connected devices for the home; and Google Fit, the health-tracking platform.

It's clear the giants of Silicon Valley are committed to helping change the way health care is practiced. History tells us they're likely to be successful. How big a part of their overall businesses health care becomes remains to be seen.

Disclosure: The author does not hold a position in any of the companies mentioned.

This article first appeared on GuruFocus.