Sep 19 2018
Patient-Centered Care

Tech Giants Promise to Tap IT to Smooth Kinks in Healthcare

Microsoft, Google, Amazon and others are stating their intentions to take on some of healthcare’s largest looming challenges.

Large technology companies have already transformed the way we live, and now they could be revolutionizing our healthcare systems as well.

Over the past few months, tech giants have not been shy about their interest in the healthcare industry, as evidenced by acquisitions, partnerships and investments into health IT companies and platforms. These interests were solidified in a recent letter from six prominent technology companies promising a joint commitment to remove barriers to technologies that can improve interoperability “particularly those that are enabled through the cloud and AI,” according to the letter. 

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Tech Companies Pledge to Improve Data Sharing

In the letter, issued this summer, Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce pledged their commitment to a “common quest to unlock the potential in healthcare data, to deliver better outcomes at lower costs.”

The companies pointed to several “foundational assumptions” that will be central to their pursuit of more useful and shareable healthcare data, including:

  • The “frictionless” exchange of health data will ultimately improve patient care and satisfaction while cutting costs across the healthcare system.
  • Interoperable systems, in order to be successful, need to be developed and tested with all users and stakeholders in mind.
  • “Open standards, open specifications, and open source tools are essential to facilitate frictionless data exchange.”
  • The improvement of health data exchange is an ongoing process, not a static one, that will require a constant commitment, open dialogue and assessment.

This is just the latest in a slew of announcements by these large tech providers.

Microsoft, Amazon and Others Have a Leg Up in Health IT

Microsoft is already off to the races in terms of helping providers tap IT tools to improve healthcare data use and exchange. As part of an effort from a newly formed team focused on healthcare, experts in the company will work with organizations to help them move their systems to the cloud, The Verge reports.

Moreover, the company is already working with provider partners to introduce cloud in innovative ways. In a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, for instance, Microsoft is working with the provider on several AI and cloud-based initiatives, as well as on a larger project to build three specialty hospitals with a digital focus.

Microsoft certainly isn’t the only company with a head start on improving care delivery. Amazon announced a partnership earlier this year with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase with the aim of tapping tech and other resources to quell ballooning healthcare costs and improve patient outcomes.

“The healthcare system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty,” Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, said in a statement. “Hard as it might be, reducing healthcare’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort. Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation.”

Meanwhile, Google has shown major interest and investment in the healthcare space in everything from machine learning for medical data to using the cloud for improved imaging to using tech to bridge the public health gap. IBM has made waves in healthcare with everything from AI to blockchain, while Oracle has shaken up the analytics space.

So, why are all these companies making such a commitment to healthcare now? John Prendergass, associate director of healthcare investment at Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, told the New York Times that it’s become critical to their users.

“The big-picture reason that a lot of these tech companies are getting into healthcare now is because the market is too big, too important and much too personal to their users for them to ignore,” Prendergass said.

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