With AI increasingly playing a role in healthcare, and the cost of insurance continuing to rise, it’s no surprise that people might be feeling a little bit disillusioned and confused as to what to expect this year. However, as the pace of technology continues to accelerate, as does the political situation, it’s all the more reason to keep a sharp focus on where the technology and healthcare in general is heading.
Last year, the new Apple Watch proved that it could potentially save lives by offering an ECG function, and Google has, of course, acquired its own technology with DeepMind. While Facebook had previously dipped its toe in the market with plans of sharing data with health organizations, it has pulled its ambitions after concerns over its use of user data.
Amazon to be involved with healthcare
We all use Amazon for last-minute Christmas presents, book wish-lists and the odd bits and bobs, and Amazon Prime has proven to be a hit among its regular customers. Citi analyst Mark Mary predicted that their subscribers will reach 275 million, up from 101 million at the end of 2017. With that in mind, it might not necessarily come as a surprise that Amazon Prime will not only continue to exist and grow in its current form, but also for healthcare. According to Anurag Gupta, a VP at tech analyst Gartner: “Amazon likes to target two kinds of industry: the first is where they see an opportunity to reform, where it’s not the most user friendly of industries, where there’s a lack of trust. In the case of healthcare, intermediaries like pharmacy benefit managers, drug wholesalers and distributors are ‘sucking a lot of money out of the system.'”
According to Gupta, the reason a lot of big tech industries have such a big focus on healthcare is because, like any commercial business, they have their eyes on any holes in the current market. Unfortunately, the current gap appears to be customer service. Giants like Amazon have experience in customer service where some healthcare brands don’t, which means they are quickly honing in on that market.
According to ZD.net, Amazon Web Services is planning on extending its Comprehend language processing service to medical records. It reported that in a blog post, Amazon Web Services claimed that it was also planning on building a new version that could account for “medical terms, anatomy, conditions, medications and various healthcare terms.” The news site also reported that Amazon had also acquired PillPack, a company that delivers medicines to people’s doors and refills their prescriptions.
Although Amazon isn’t the first to join this market, they certainly seem to be getting everything in order to correspond with their other services.
Petitions to end work-based health insurance
Although half of all Americans get their health insurance through their employers, this still leaves half of US citizens having to cover the costs themselves. Some US citizens even have to take on two or more jobs or get help from wealthier relatives to cover the cost. More than ever, people are campaigning for this to end, as it currently stands as a block (with the exclusion of the current government) to people from potentially receiving healthcare from the government. For those enjoying the benefits of full-time employment and an employer that covers them, 83 percent said their insurance was excellent or good. For those who are not sponsored by an employer for their healthcare, unexpected emergencies can be costly. Investigating alternative finance options and research may be the best option for some.
IBM continues to push Watson
IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty announced in an interview in January that IBM Watson Health is still “a very important part” of their business. Rometty re-iterated how well their oncology software after it was seemingly being publically criticized for not being up to scratch. She insisted on Watson’s success during a Keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, despite turning down interviews with other magazines.
STAT news reported some alarming quotes from IBM’s health division, as well as a number of employee layoffs. A big criticism of this software that recommends cancer treatments is that it prioritizes American treatment methods. That said, IBM has reportedly said that it plans to add regional treatment guidelines as well as some expanded real-world data on patient outcomes.
Watches with ECG features
These will be worth watching for the debate they have thus far been creating. Last year the Apple Watch reportedly saved a man’s life by alerting him to the fact he had an irregular heartbeat. After visiting the hospital it was indeed found that he was in beginnings of what doctors term as ‘an event.’ However, others have been arguing that the potential for false positives is inflammatory and unnecessary. When the first watch was launched, it came with a caveat from the FDA that it was “not intended to replace traditional methods of diagnosis or treatment.” Despite this, the counter argument to the new technology is that doctor’s surgeries will be full of people reading false positives and wondering if they have a heart condition.
The perceived safety that an ECG feature can bring is expected to increase the ownership of smartwatches in the US to 10 percent. More than 8 million Americans over the age of 55 are expected to adorn a wearable in 2019, up by more than 15 percent from last year, according to eMarketer. On top of this, Withings have also entered the race for an infamous ECG smartwatch, with their new product ‘The Move ECG.’ With new contenders entering the market, it has yet to be seen if an ECG feature is a true life-saver or not.
Whether smartwatches become modern-day heroes or IBM eventually becomes a healthcare dropout, it has yet to be seen what will become of emerging technologies this year. More protests about healthcare could make for an even hotter political debate, or maybe American citizens will be waiting a little while longer for support on their healthcare insurance.