Tech Companies Could Be Our Doctors in the Future

March 5, 2020 - 7 minutes read

Healthcare is a necessity for humanity to survive — and thrive. For centuries, we were left to our own devices to figure out a treatment for our illness. This often meant using natural plants and methods to create a concoction. But with the advent of modern medicine, healthcare has become the biggest global business; it’s entrenched in every country’s infrastructure, and humans rely on it to be stable, effective, and affordable.

Peter Diamandis is the co-founder of X-Prize, Singularity University, and San Diego-based Health Longevity Inc. Diamandis says healthcare is fundamentally broken. In his new book, titled The Future Is Faster Than You Think, Diamandis introduces the notion that the big tech giants will be running the healthcare industry by 2030.

“Do I think Apple and Google and Amazon can do a better job?” he posits. “A thousandfold.”

The Not-So-Far Future

2030 isn’t far from 2020. Before we know it, we’ll be ringing in a new decade again and will have many new innovations to look forward to. One of these innovations will use the data from a ubiquitous device of this decade to create better healthcare solutions: smart assistants. Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, and Apple’s HomePod have been generating data from us for years, and they’re going to be invaluable in leading the charge for data-driven healthcare.

Out of the three tech giants, Amazon’s the frontrunner due to its large investment in healthcare. In the UK, Amazon and the National Health service have partnered up to make Alexa a resource-rich hub of medical information. Amazon has worked hard to make Alexa HIPAA-compliant, and it’s signed contracts with insurance companies and healthcare providers to help patients send information through Alexa.

Google’s Assistant has a Mayo Clinic-developed feature named First Aid. It helps patients treat minor issues and injuries. Apple’s suite of products (Watch, iPhone, and the HomePod) connects to its HealthKit product.

Data-Driven Healthcare

According to Diamandis, these devices can lower costs and burden for the patient by directing them away from a costly hospital visit. Because the tech giants have become masters of predicting user behavior using the user’s personal data, Diamandis is confident this technique can be applied to healthcare, risk calculation, and diagnosis prediction.

Artificial intelligence (AI) works best when it’s trained on multidimensional data. This can be achieved from our current (and constantly improving) state of wearables. The idea is that AI can point out when a patient is at high risk for an illness or disease so that he or she can take the recommended steps to fix it before it becomes a real problem. Preventative medicine takes more effort over time, but “it is literally hundreds if not thousands of times cheaper,” says Diamandis.

His prediction says that the tech giants will take money from patients to provide them with ways to stay healthy, rather than treat them or cover the cost of the illness.

Henrik Vogt is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Oslo, studying Medical Ethics. Vogt says that although these devices and medical applications open more insights into the patient’s body and habits, they also create more noise in the data. Vogt is also worried that we may invest too much time and money into big data and completely forego focusing on other factors that can improve the healthcare experience, like institutional or social change.

Trusting the Tech Giants

Amazon and Apple both employ a substantial number of doctors to help direct development, test devices on patients, and even help their employees get on-site healthcare. Amazon’s also working on a secret project, called Haven Healthcare, with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway.

Apple and Google are working to integrate their innovations within traditional healthcare infrastructure and workflows. They’re more focused on improving the field for providers and patients.

All of these ideas and predictions sound great at a glance until you remember that Google, Amazon, and Apple are guarding tons of sensitive data because it’s profitable. Let’s not forget that, when Google acquired Fitbit in 2019, it had to issue an official statement saying it wouldn’t use Fitbit user data for its own advertising gain. All of this to say that the tech giants aren’t trustworthy and are always laser-focused on impressing their shareholders.

If you’re already skeptical of the tech giants, chances are you’re going to want to employ some other company or method in managing your health. But if Diamandis’s prediction comes true, we may be stuck with only a few options in the future. And these options also know everything about your search history, product interest, shopping habits, and more.

For big data and AI to improve healthcare, we must think critically about who we give the power of prediction and knowledge to manage our bodies and health. There must be rules, regulations, and standards for what is acceptable, what isn’t allowed, and what the bare minimum entails.

A New Way Forward?

As we’ve seen with the current landscape of medicine, AI works best when it’s collaborating with doctors: this combination yields the highest accuracy. For that reason, in the future, we’re still going to want to have a human doctor advocating for us as the patient, while working alongside an AI program from one of the tech giants. And Diamandis agrees with this sentiment.

What do you think about his belief that the tech titans of today will become the medical providers of tomorrow? Do you think this will pave the way towards a brighter future for healthcare? As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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