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Fast Company: If We Want Better Innovations in Health Tech, We Need More Competition

From Fast Company: Google’s chief health officer Karen DeSalvo has repeatedly called access to accurate information “a determinant of health” as she aims to leverage Google’s reach as a tech platform for the benefit of public health. We have ample evidence to support the idea of information as a health determinant, as the pandemic revealed the dangers of rampant misinformation, and we know basic internet access impacts health outcomes.
But to achieve what DeSalvo called “a doctor in your pocket”—meaning convenient access to our electronic health records (EHR), real-time chat, or personalized care plans—incumbents in healthcare technology need to feel a sense of competition-driven fear sparked by novel technologies that drive meaningful change.
Take recent moves by Amazon, for example. Amazon knows the disruptor role better than anyone and, in fact, just recently made waves in primary care by acquiring One Medical for nearly $4 billion and shutting down its Amazon Care service, which I view as a move to seed its investments strategically and not necessarily a step backward. It’s important to always be thinking about where you are seeding investments, nurturing them, harvesting and pruning them. Amazon is very good at this and these choices are keys to company success. Incumbents are—and should be—afraid of how Amazon could reshape the landscape and drive consolidation. But I believe the outcome will ignite positive change. With behemoths, such as Apple and Google, joining Amazon with various initiatives in healthcare, now is the time for transformation. These are the areas where tech innovation can drive the most meaningful change.


Every time I list my current medications, allergies, and medical history with a pen chained to a clipboard, I receive a vivid reminder that our data systems need an upgrade. Fortunately, recent legislation that includes the 21st Century Cures Act, is aimed at encouraging tech innovation through open-source standards. Even with the new legislation, realizing the “doctor in your pocket” feels a long way away when we see fax machines still functioning in doctors’ offices. But DeSalvo herself represents a changing tide in healthcare technology and leadership. She served as President Obama’s assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and was the national coordinator for health IT before joining Google in 2019. Her role at Google is part of a larger movement across tech to create healthcare “platforms.” Big tech companies mastered the concept of a platform long ago by creating an intertwined ecosystem of applications and functionality for communication, navigation, web browsing, you name it. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android represent the evolution from software to platforms. So, what if there was a single app for instant access to personal health records? In the spirit of a true platform, the app could connect the user to any number of resources, such as data from their FitBit, the status of their latest insurance claim, or a CDC advisory on the severity of this year’s flu season. And healthcare providers would, for the first time, have access to a singular and holistic view of a patient’s health profile, with no need for the clipboard and pen.
Read more at Fast Company.