As far as the healthcare industry is concerned, digitization is progressing slowly and hesitantly. This potential could be reached in a variety of ways. There lies a great deal of digitization potential for the majority of companies in the healthcare industry, which has so far hardly been tapped into. Nowadays, companies are facing massive changes and new developments. These are no longer driven by small and innovative start-ups but rather technology giants such as Amazon, Google and Apple who have discovered the potential and opportunities of the healthcare industry – and it’s no coincidence.

Stethoscope Computer Healthcare (source: pixabay)

A new healthcare giant is growing

Earlier this year, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase unveiled their joint plans: By pooling their expertise, the three companies want to revolutionize their healthcare delivery – with around one million employees to benefit. Insiders believe that this collaboration will transform the well-known rules of the healthcare industry. This may be to the detriment of traditional health insurers, whose share prices plummeted after the announcement in January. The project will be non-commercial in nature, with the goal of reducing ever-increasing healthcare costs in the US. For the time being, the focus is on technical aspects of the project. In addition, although no details are yet known, it is possible that the joint project of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase will someday also be accessible to people who are not involved in any of these companies. This could seriously bring health insurers under pressure.

The collaboration between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgen Chase could seriously bring health insurers under pressure.

Even prior to the announcement from the three large companies, more and more businesses have been turning their attention to the health sector. The possibilities created by digitization are fuelling the dynamic market. Increasingly sophisticated smartphones and wearable devices enable patients to monitor their own health and send data to their doctor – the smartphone can help by transmitting blood pressure, body fat and heartrate results so that people can control and improve their health independently. The improved doctor-patient communication could provide further acceleration towards the increasingly popular video-consultation sessions, in which patients and doctors can use their computers to connect directly with each other via a server. The possibilities of this are far from being reached. Apple and Stanford University are currently working together to develop smartphones that are able to measure blood glucose levels.

The big players enter the ring

Google’s parent company Alphabet is currently positioned above all in the field of artificial intelligence. In the future, data collected on mobile devices will help to provide informed diagnoses and risk assessments in conjunction with the description of symptoms, and to identify optimal treatment options by interlinking with other patients’ data. Stanford University uses Tensorflow, Google’s machine learning platform, to train an algorithm that can detect areas affected by skin cancer – it is already 91% accurate. Thus, the technology supports physicians in the diagnosis of diseases. Given that early detection is the best remedy for skin cancer, this could be a crucial step in the fight against the disease. Facebook has been focusing on mental health for some time now. With the help of artificial intelligence, the company analyses the online behaviour of its users, such as the photos posted to Facebook or Instagram. It aims to identify depression indicators and prevent potential suicides.

The search for health-related topics is booming

The possibilities of digital marketing are also very high within the healthcare industry. For example, in the final quarter of 2017, health search queries using Google increased by a whopping 185 percent in comparison to the same time period last year. 46 percent of all inquiries came from smartphones, which resulted in an increase of 200 percent, proving that Google’s well-known principle “Mobile First” also strongly applies to the healthcare industry.

Patients are using the internet more and more to inform themselves. Not only is this trend continuing, but it is intensifying as the massively increasing numbers continue to rise. Healthcare companies that are not investing in their internet presence and digital visibility will be at risk of being left behind by the digitized competition.

The potential of digital health is limitless

In addition, the extraction and structuring of data from data warehouses will become increasingly important in the future. This is especially important in the healthcare sector with its many different practice systems. As a result, key figures can be identified from the data whilst also linking information together.

There are no limits to the possibilities of data warehouses. In an emergency, pacemakers or insulin pumps can be operated remotely via remote control, health insurance bonus programs can be linked to health apps or data from gyms, and various physicians can use the blockchain technology to provide a more detailed medical history of an individual patient. In Estonia, the benefits of blockchain technology are already being noticed today. Patient data is stored securely and encrypted in a central portal. Doctors and hospitals can access and transmit digital prescriptions to pharmacies.

It is important to unlock the potential for improved human health and address challenges along the way. These include the clarification of data protection issues, the development of a reliable IT infrastructure and a transparent and responsible approach to the public, as concerns are often expressed about the idea of total monitoring. If such hurdles can be overcome, the new technological possibilities will not only bring benefits for companies, but, above all, for every single patient.

This article has originally been published in German on t3n.de.