Amazon (AMZN) is giving away $40 million in credits for its Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform to help address health care inequities. The goal is to reach populations around the world with limited access to health services and to analyze data from underrepresented groups to better understand how inequality affects people’s health.
“What we’ve seen over the past 18 months is customers, researchers, all working diligently to solve the COVID-19 pandemic, and now we’ve got the opportunity on the other side of this to address some of the other fundamental things, the inequities, that we discovered that the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare,” Max Peterson, VP of AWS worldwide public sector, told Yahoo Finance Live on Monday.
The tech industry has made health care one of its next big investment targets, with giants from Facebook and Apple to Microsoft and Google investing in the sector through either consumer products like the Apple Watch to the availability of commercial health services technology.
Amazon’s AWS is the global leader in cloud computing, accounting for 31% of total worldwide cloud spending in Q2 2021, according to Canalys.
The AWS credits will go to organizations that focus on three main areas including telehealth; understanding and addressing socioeconomic and environmental factors that impact people’s health, and ensuring data from underrepresented groups are included in medical studies.
The first will focus on getting health care to underserved areas. Amazon says that could include bringing telehealth to underserved regions and enabling remote patient monitoring.
Telehealth took off during the pandemic to help patients see their doctors in non-emergency medical situations without risking exposure to the coronavirus.
Peterson says that an increase in telemedicine could address a lack of health resources in regions that don’t have any available medical professionals, which is the case for roughly half the world’s population.
In addition to remote health care, Amazon will provide the AWS credits to organizations that look to address social determinants of health, or things ranging from the availability of healthy food to safe housing to clean air.
“This will allow companies that leverage technology to harness AWS services to be able to look into the broader socioeconomic environmental factors that play a role in [health],” Peterson said.
The pandemic made it clear that a number of factors ranging from economic stability and food insecurity can make for worse overall health outcomes. COVID-19 hit communities of color particularly hard, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The death rate from COVID-19 was twice as high for Black people than whites and 2.3 times as high for Hispanic patients.
The AWS effort will fund research into improving the diversity of available medical data, with the goal of improving outcomes for underserved people.
“By using and analyzing things like global averages and health statistics, we think that our customers and our partners will be able to create new data sets that increase representation of underserved or underrepresented communities so that we have more accurate data sets for health about race, ethnicity, gender, and disability," Peterson said.
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