In recent years, large corporations such as Apple and Google have set their sights on the health sector. This market entry of the technology groups holds a high disruptive potential for the health sector. The big players Amazon, Google, Apple and co. are not only financially strong and possess technology competence and cross-industry experience. They also bring a They also bring a different, above all data-driven, perspective to this industry.

The five largest technology groups - Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Tencent - have collectively filed more than 3,500 patents for healthcare between 2014 and 2019. ("Future of health" by PwC)

Healthcare expert Dr. Thomas Solbach estimates that these companies by now hold more than 6000 health-related patents. In addition, as platform providers, these groups are also able to attack the pharmaceutical industry's distribution model.


But how do the companies proceed and how do they view themselves?

Apple's vision of more personalised care in the healthcare industry

"If you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, 'What was Apple's greatest contribution to mankind?' It will be about health," Tim Cook, CEO Apple

To achieve this vision, Apple relies on its own products on the one hand, and on cooperation with other companies in the healthcare industry on the other:

The core product is the Apple Watch, which offers activity tracking and heart monitoring functions, for example. It can also be connected to health apps from other providers. Apple itself also offers complementary products such as the One Drop blood glucose meter. This can be connected to the watch. This allows diabetics to immediately store their readings on the watch and retrieve them at any time.

This is where the next pillar of Apple's efforts in the healthcare business comes in: Apple Health. The software will enable healthcare professionals and physicians to access patient information such as lab results and the medical history of patients via their iPhone, iPad or even an Apple Watch. 

One example of Apple's cooperation with other medical companies is its partnership with the medical technology company Zimmer Biomet. Together, the two companies hope to develop an app that will be used to investigate why some patients recover faster from certain treatments than others.


Amazon becomes an online pharmacy and offers health information via the voice assistant Alexa

The mail order company Amazon not only has a unique infrastructure that enables it to deliver products to consumers in the shortest possible time, but also has a huge pool of customer contacts, all of whom are potential patients.

With Amazon Pharmacy, Amazon has established its own online pharmacy that can use Amazon's enormous logistics network.

A pilot project of the shipping giant is Amazon Care. The offer includes both virtual and personal medical care, with telehealth via app, chat and remote video, as well as follow-up visits and the personal dispensing of prescription drugs directly at home or in the office. The service is currently only available to employees in the Seattle area.

This idea is not new; Apple also offers its employees medical treatment in its own hospitals. However, the strongly branded appearance of the portal and its marketing suggest that an opening of the offer to other groups of people may already be considered.

Another clever move by Amazon was to equip the voice assistant Alexa with new skills for the health sector. With Alexa's help, users can find a doctor, make an appointment and receive status updates on their medication delivery. Members of the ERAS program at the Boston Children's Hospital can even use the virtual assistant to obtain information about their operations.

Google relies on artificial intelligence, chatbots and voicebots

For many patients, the search for the right doctor starts with Google Maps. And before and after a visit to the doctor, they use Google to get information. From this perspective, Google has long been involved in the healthcare business.

"I believe Google is already a health company. It's been in the company's DNA from the start. David Feinberg, Head of Google Health

In order to offer further services and position itself even more strongly, Google has now developed, for example, Healthcare Natural Language API and AutoML Entity Extraction for Healthcare. These artificial intelligence tools can help healthcare organisations scan and analyse large amounts of unstructured text. Google Cloud's EHR Voice Assistant Suki helps medical staff with documentation and management.

The Company relies heavily on artificial intelligence and Conversational AI to assist in diagnostics or data management. 

What does this mean for the long-established players in the health industry?

In the future, pharmaceutical and medical companies will have to compete not only with each other, but also with these financially strong and highly innovative large corporations.

They have the choice whether they want to go their own way or whether they want to enter into cooperations with the large corporations or start ups in order to actively shape this development. 

The first step is a thorough analysis of the own know-how and the product portfolio to find out which use cases are possible and promising.

In our white paper we have compiled 11 use cases for the pharmaceutical and medical industry. These can serve as orientation and inspiration where companies can realize Digital Health for themselves with chatbots, voicebots and virtual assistants.