New CB Insights report says Facebook could be digital entry point for health in the future

A new CB Insights report lays out the role of the FAMGA companies in healthcare and what could be next for each.
By Laura Lovett
03:43 pm
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For quite a while now, tech titans Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Apple have been quickly gaining prominence in the healthcare industry. In a new report, CB Insights dives into what each of the companies are up to and possible next moves. 

First, Facebook, the report shines light on the fact that it has the ability to look at huge swaths of user data and behaviors. It also looks at how the social media company could become an avenue for patients to access care. 

“WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Groups could become the first digital point of entry to healthcare services, especially in developing countries,” authors of the report wrote. “For instance, in India, WhatsApp boasts 200M DAU and was recently granted a banking license, signaling further things to come.”

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The report likens Facebook to Tencent’s WeChat, which is now used to perform everything from AI-based self-triaging to scheduling medical appointments.  

Facebook’s major hurtles: trust issues, according to the report. The top reason for not using Facebook is concerns with the privacy of personal information, according to the Verge Tech Survey of 2020. 

As for Amazon’s interest in health, the report found it's taking a multipronged approach. After its purchase of digital pharmacy Pill Pack in 2018, it has taking an active role in medication distribution. But that’s far from Amazon’s only focus. It is also expanding its AWS services to increasingly cater to the medical industry’s needs. 

Voice was also a hot topic for Amazon. Its Alexa is increasingly adding on health skills and making new partnerships with providers and digital health companies like Atrium Health and Livongo. 

The report highlights that Microsoft's role will be predominantly through working with enterprise systems. In particular, the report points out that the company’s Azure cloud-computing platform is being tapped for use by some of the biggest names in healthcare like Humana and Novartis.

“Microsoft will continue to help healthcare organizations across the ecosystem to transform the way they work – from storing & making sense out of clinical data to communicating among care team & patients to recruiting physicians & training staff members,” the authors wrote. 

Google has been in the healthcare industry for some time. The report highlights that the Silicon Valley giant has been leading the way in artificial intelligence research. These AI capabilities could go a few different avenues. 

Google demonstrated an EHR-like tool last year that could be used to help clinicians search for patient information more easily – thus helping with workflow. However, its AI tools have also been used in research – particularly in the imaging space. 

Last, the report zeros in on Apple, noting its history of user trust and its ability to let users access their personal health records. The report also focused on Apple’s devices and their ability to capture data – including heart data from the Apple Watch. 

This type of data capture has also been used in studies. CB Insights highlights the Apple Heart Study with Sandford, which was able to include data from more than 400,000 participants. 

WHY IT MATTERS 

The so-called FAMGA companies have an unprecedented user base, as well as financial resources – meaning that they have the potential to reach more patients. According to the report there are 5.9 billion Google searches a day, 1.6 billion Facebook users and 1.5 billion active Apple devices. 

“They are also some of the world’s biggest & most profitable cash hoarders,” the report read. “To transform the healthcare market, big tech can deploy 'patient capital' for internal investments, acquisitions, and placing strategic bets in startups.”

THE LARGER TREND 

All of the companies in the research report have been getting involved in the healthcare space for some time. However, like the rest of the digital health space, their efforts are also being shaped by the coronavirus pandemic. 

For example, Apple and Google are joining hands on a new coronavirus-tracing app that was designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. And, as the report indicates, Amazon, Google and Microsoft are all uniting on a supercomputing initiative to help fight the coronavirus. 

While it’s clear that the major tech companies in the US will have a part to play in healthcare, this recent pandemic is clearly helping shape their future strategy. 

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