Big Tech in Healthcare: What You Need to Know

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By Drew Corbett, Director, Healthbox
Big tech in healthcare is alive and well, and it is poised to drive massive transformation across the health ecosystem.

Healthcare systems must acknowledge and embrace the reality of industry change, as we already face so much of it: transitioning to new care models, caring for aging populations, growing incidences of chronic disease (affecting 50 million of U.S. adults in 2016), as well as ever-changing demands and expectations of consumers. As both populations and costs continue to grow, organizations are being prompted to update systems, infrastructure and organizational strategies in order to keep up.

According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), healthcare spending in the U.S. reached $3.6 trillion dollars in 2018. That’s over $11,000 per person, CMS estimates. Moreover, from 2012 to 2018, the top 10 technology corporations in the U.S. participated in 209 healthcare financing deals and spent a total of $4.7 billion on 25 healthcare acquisitions.

Tech giants understand that healthcare is worth investing in, so they are taking on a variety of different projects. Some of the most promising are unsurprisingly led by “the big four,” each taking on a different domain in healthcare to suit their own business needs and expertise. While Microsoft works on the cloud, Apple continues to collect data for clinical research via Apple Watch. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is focused on leveraging AI to drive precision medicine, and per usual, Amazon’s doing a little bit of everything—from pharmacy to telehealth. Eventually, no cornerstone of health innovation will be left untouched by key market players.

Understanding the inherent value of health data, it’s not surprising that health systems and consumers are feeling a little uneasy about what this could mean for health data transparency. Though we are still in the early stages of big tech in healthcare, it’s time for healthcare organizations to plan ahead and potentially take some risk in order to keep up.

Take Risks—And Understand Those Risks

“Risk” is not typically a word healthcare organizations embrace, but those who want to remain competitive know that it is the reality of a changing industry. In order to improve results, it’s necessary to change approach.

At the same time, healthcare organizations have a responsibility to understand to what changes consumers or patients are being subjected. The need for due diligence in technology becomes higher and more incumbent on healthcare organizations as these changes occur. Building or improving upon the organization’s skill set as it relates to modern data practices from a consumer landscape will be key to ensuring those risks are worth taking.

Over time, the risks will continue to prove more beneficial. For instance, the regulatory barriers that have historically squandered innovative efforts will be forced to change with big tech’s entrance into healthcare, as tech giants will put more pressure on the system to optimize the approval process. For example, in 2018 Apple received its first FDA approval for an ECG monitor, spurring widespread industry commotion. This was not the first innovation of its kind; AliveCor already had a similar product on the market. However, they didn’t have that brand recognition with the power to elevate the conversation.

Big tech brands can afford more risk. So when healthcare organizations partner with them, they should feel more confident in taking that risk. The bigger players in the market are going to push the industry forward and eventually change the trajectory of what risk signifies for healthcare organizations.

Be Transparent—And Know What You’re Being Transparent About

All of this change is prompting a movement where patients get more access to their health information—something that some would argue hasn’t always been a priority for healthcare providers.

A person generates enough health data in their lifetime to fill 300 million books. Data is power, and these changes are moving that power from providers to patients.

However, many consumers are skeptical about big tech in healthcare, which is why communicating effectively remains more important than ever in order to maintain trust. Being honest and transparent with consumers requires a concrete understanding of what’s happening. If we’re going to say, “Exactly A, B and C is going to happen with your data and exactly X, Y and Z is not,” that means that you’ve done the due diligence on the back end to make sure those truths are reality. Winning consumers’ trust is about demonstrating how you’re going to add value to their experience.

By inviting honesty to the table, you’re also going to invite your own integrity when you’re having your data partnership conversations. These conversations should go beyond two business stakeholders talking data and should always stay centered on the patient. How will the decisions coming out of this partnership truly affect patient experience with the health system? We need to put our heads into the situation of patients sitting in the room with the physician: how does this matter to them, and how will our decisions impact that?

Once you are able to answer these questions and understand the patient perspective, transparency will come naturally during your conversations with consumers, and consumers will feel more empowered with information about their data.

Welcome Change—And Welcome Risk

Healthcare organizations should not fear the word “risk” but embrace change with an open mind and understand that accepting change also means accepting potential for risk. In terms of healthcare consumers, we’ve seen a lot of progress in this. Consumers continue to recognize the idea that lifestyles produce meaningful data, that data is the future and that big data has every right to be at the table with regard to lifestyle data.

Times are changing. Generally, consumers tend to view lifestyle as something that’s on display and healthcare as something that occurs behind closed doors. Now, lifestyle is knocking on those closed doors. The conjoining of these two forces inevitably invites a lot of questions and strikes fear of the unknown—after all, it’s bridging into what we’ve traditionally thought of as a very private space.

But to put it simply, fear of the unknown shouldn’t keep us from embracing the advantages of tomorrow. Big tech in healthcare will likely continue to present more advantages to healthcare organizations, but organizations must remain optimistic and be bullish in their pursuits of data partnerships. We cannot put our heads in the sand if we want to progress. Soon enough, opting out will not be possible.

It’s all about the how—understanding where, as an organization, you may want to be more risk-adverse or what relationships allow for a little more risk. If you look at health data like a car, it can be dangerous if used irresponsibly—but most people, most of the time, use it responsibly. Clear rules must be set and adhered to, and then you’ve got a powerful tool in your hands, capable of taking your organization places that once seemed far out of reach.

Big tech is already doing incredible things in the lives of consumers. To turn our back on that would not be prudent. Though much work lies ahead, it’s time to get on board and roll with the changes.

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