In January, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) CEO Tim Cook boldly stated that the iPhone maker's greatest contribution to mankind would be its health-related services. A bold claim, but one which seems to resonate with other tech companies, too.
It is no secret that the healthcare situation in the U.S. lags behind other developed countries due to lack of coverage, administrative issues, and primary care shortages. However, big tech is looking to change this, as U.S. health spending represents a huge opportunity for them, having totaled $3.7 trillion in 2018 alone.
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In July, the Big Four, Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN), Apple, Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL) (NASDAQ: GOOG), and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) met in Washington, D.C., with representatives from some of the biggest healthcare providers in the country. Spokespeople confirmed that they had committed to helping consumers gain access to their medical claims information via cloud networks of their choosing, such as Apple's Health app. Some of the real-world applications being tested include fraud detection and aiding consumers avoid paying erroneous bills.
Amazon has made its healthcare ambitions clear for quite some time now, including its Haven project to provide free healthcare. In 2014, it completed a deal with Cardinal Health, which now sees it distributing medical supplies to providers in over 40 states. Behind the cost of labor, medical supplies are the biggest moneymaker in the medical business, and Amazon has been building its distribution expertise for five years now.
In June 2018, Amazon further solidified its healthcare intentions with its Grand Challenge group working on both medical records and cancer research. Amazon's ambitions were helped further with its acquisition of PillPack, which gives the company mail-order licences in all 50 states and is compatible with Medicare plans. This move would allow the e-commerce giant to expand quickly in healthcare by disrupting the $560 billion pharmaceutical industry.
With over 100 million Amazon Prime members, experience, and a successful cloud computing network with Amazon Web Services, Amazon could well be a driving force behind big tech's move into the health sector.
With Apple increasing its services spending and moving away from retail, healthcare has become a viable and profitable route for the tech giant. Apple cut a substantial slice of the healthcare pie for itself when it secured one of the Food and Drug Administration's nine coveted spots in the Digital Health Software Precertification Program. Apple was approved to this program as the FDA saw the importance of digital health and was impressed by Apple's robustness and quality control protocols, which made the company ideal for pioneering healthcare innovation.
The outcome of this membership has seen Apple move in on developing blood pressure monitors for the Apple Watch, as well as delving into the possibility of diabetes management through a contactless means of sampling blood. In 2017, Apple successfully partnered with Stanford Medicine to also use the Apple Watch's heart rate sensors to help track life-threatening heart conditions.
Other examples of Apple using its products to track diseases include a vision test on the iPhone X, a hearing test feature in its AirPods, as well as a speech recognition tool to detect speech impediments associated with stroke. The Apple Health app allows customers to successfully store medical data on their phone, which is the basis of the new proposed partnership with healthcare companies.
Alphabet's healthcare ambitions coincide perfectly with that of the proposed new team-up with big health. With an aging population comes more and more data. Alphabet's ambitions lie in the use of structured data and artificial intelligence (AI) on the basis that about a third of the world's data is generated by the healthcare industry. Alphabet's advanced AI and machine learning sector can position the company as an innovation leader when it comes to healthcare.
Alphabet has already established collaborations with doctors both in the U.S. and abroad, developing algorithms that can diagnose diabetic retinopathy in images at a level of accuracy likened to that of board-certified ophthalmologists. This is one of its larger on-hand projects, and it has also worked with several major universities in America through Alphabet's life sciences division, Verily, to establish a baseline of health data, with help from 10,000 participants.
Verily has taken on risks for health insurance customers in the past, and its new data-driven solution is designed to cut healthcare costs for customers. Alphabet has really stepped up its health drive in recent years, filing no fewer than 186 health-related patents in between 2013 and 2017, more than Apple and Microsoft combined. Alphabet's's vast data collection and advanced AI work will be pivotal in getting any potential health service off the ground.
A little bit later to the game than its Big Four counterparts, Microsoft opened up a health department in its Cambridge research lab in 2017. Its areas of focus center on AI, machine intelligence, and cloud computing, which will all be needed if the big-tech collaboration is to take place.
Like Alphabet, Microsoft is also hedging its bets on an AI-driven healthcare in the future, filing 73 related patents in four years and placing significant investment in its foremost healthcare initiative, Healthcare NExT. With the discontinuation of Microsoft's Health Dashboard site as well as Wearables, Microsoft is hoping to woo healthcare clients with an advanced cloud service and has ramped up its services.
Windows is already the most popular operating system in hospitals with Microsoft Azure experiencing higher growth than Amazon Web Services last year in this regard. This systems familiarity among healthcare staff may go a long way for Microsoft in the event of a team-up.
It's clear from looking at these four massive companies that the future would indeed be bright if they were to collaborate on a project that would be for the betterment of the average consumer.
Each brings a unique strength to the table, such as Apple's design, Microsoft's foothold in healthcare, Alphabet's data collection, and Amazon's distribution. Combined, the sky's the limit, and hopefully healthcare providers will see it the same way.
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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft. The Motley Fool has the following options: short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple, long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple, long January 2021 $85 calls on Microsoft, short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple, and long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
This article was originally published on Fool.com