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  • Roger L. Soares

The Future of Healthcare

Google is trying to acquire Fitbit. Of-course they are, healthcare is a trillion-dollar business and Google wants a piece of it. This acquisition is more than just competition for Apple, this is a war for user data. Google understands that consumer data is one of the most important components in healthcare. Chronic diseases, an aging baby boomer population that is living longer, and spiraling medical costs are putting pressure on healthcare providers and insurers to leverage technology.

The increased demand by consumers to monitor their own health and the use of wearable technology has more than tripled in the last four years. According to Business Insider Intelligence, more than 80% of consumers are willing to wear fitness technology. In 2018, the wearable tech market was worth nearly $23 billion, and is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 19% reaching $54 billion by 2023. The healthcare Portability act of 1996 ensured that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public’s health and well-being. The Privacy Rule strikes a balance that permits important uses of information while protecting the privacy of people who seek care and healing. Smart companies like Apple, Google Samsung etc. understand this.

Managing user data is only one aspect of what companies like Apple, Google and Samsung have in store. Although compiling and centralizing healthcare data is a huge portion of the business model for healthcare service providers, companies like Apple, Google and Samsung want to analyze, interpret and integrate the user data. Earlier this year Samsung launched the app My BP Lab with its galaxy watch active, a useful feature designed to help consumers tell how their blood pressure is doing. About 75 million American adults have high blood pressure—that’s 1 in every 3 adults, and is a risk factor for stroke, heart disease, and many other life-threatening conditions. Apple added an EKG monitor to its apple watch series 4 to detect atrial fibrillation (AF). AF is the most common type of heart arrhythmia that affects an estimated 2.7 - 6.1 million people in the United States. Google’s Project Nightingale recently made headlines due to the regulatory concerns in which the patient information was obtained. However, what the media and regulators don’t seem to understand is that corporations like Google have long had access to the medical records of millions of patients without their knowledge. In the case of Google, this was a result of existing relationships with dozens of health care partners, like the University of Chicago, the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. Google has also gone on record stating it will use the information to enhance productivity and “support improvements in clinical quality and patient safety.”

What does this all mean to the consumer? Essentially these companies want to transform smartwatches and wearables into health-monitoring devices. These companies aspire to predict or identify health conditions in people who haven’t even visited a doctor, a new process called emergent medical data. In the future technology companies also want to revise the way smartwatches and wearables are paid for. Insurers and healthcare providers will subsidize the cost of these wearables and smartwatches for their customers, in return reducing their own costs when those users keep up healthy behaviors or need fewer visits to the emergency department. Technology companies will build advanced models based on user data with AI and machined learning in order to synthesize and share this data with different clinicians in order to get a better understanding of user data to provide preventive treatment/lifestyle changes, provide better courses of treatment and diagnosis options. Diagnostics on user data will most likely come from a combination of devices made by Apple, Google or Samsung and insurers and healthcare providers. For example, both Apple and Google are actively working on personal digital assistants to monitor devices in hospitals and Senior Citizen homes. Dr. Gregory Moore, VP Google, Google Cloud Healthcare & Life Sciences recently stated the following, “By enabling Fitbit to connect and manage key health and fitness data using our Google Cloud Healthcare API, we are getting one step closer to this goal,” “Together, we have the opportunity to deliver up-to-date information to providers, enhancing their ability to follow and manage the health of their patients and guide their treatment.” Through its partnership with Ascension, Google now has access to one of the largest medical databases in the world. It can train A.I. to comb through the data and identify words, phrases, and other variables that reflect the presence or early onset of disease. That may not sound bad if you assume Google will use what it learns to improve the health care system.

Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly looking to digital solutions to reduce costs and improve clinical trial designs, as the size and expense of physician-monitored clinical trials continues to expand. Digital healthcare analyst Roxanne Balfe stated that “The pharmaceutical industry will be able to drive to the next level of innovation and analytics, for example by using the data captured by wearables to more effectively monitor and analyze health metrics during trials and intervene where necessary. This personalized approach will provide physicians with the tools to make the best treatment decisions for patients.

“The power of wearables to capture a diverse array of health data remotely also offers the potential to speed up the drug development process, without compromising efficacy or safety. This will draw from its ability to collect data from patients around the world in real-time, whilst decreasing the burden of trial participation for patients themselves.”

In the future companies will offer wearables and smartwatches to employees; insurance companies and healthcare providers will subsidize the cost to the consumer to increase adoption rates. Wide scale adoption of expensive wearables and accompanying tech may look like a significant investment, but the fact that these devices can save healthcare millions of dollars in the long run and these devices allow technology companies like Apple, Google and Samsung to track consumer conditions at a distance, exchange that data with insurance companies and healthcare providers often eliminating the need to transfer them to a medical facility. Recognizing symptoms at an early stage allows for less expensive treatments. Pioneering technology will contribute to reducing costs while increasing consumers’ access to state-of-the-art healthcare.


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