When people talk about the healthcare industry, they’re usually talking about healthcare companies. You know, insurance groups, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and other usual suspects. But when we discuss healthcare in ten years, the conversation will be different. By 2030, some of the biggest tech companies will have essentially taken over the healthcare industry.
A Ponemon Institute survey showed that about one-third of stored data comes from healthcare. Big tech companies manage a huge amount of this data. These firms have the deep pockets and technological savvy needed to put it to work. Indeed, big tech has been investing heavily in healthcare in recent years—a trend that will have a tangible impact on our lives.
To call Apple and Microsoft tech “giants” is an understatement; each company boasts a market cap greater than $1 trillion. Meanwhile, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, isn’t far behind, with a market cap just shy of $850 billion. The fact that these behemoths are tuning into health is just one sign that we are on the cusp of a longevity revolution. In simple terms, that means we’re all going to live longer and better lives.
Recently, I’ve been outlining other trends that suggest this revolution is right around the corner, including improvements in the environment and personalized medicine. The latter, especially, goes hand-in-hand with the newfound health focus of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. In this piece, I’ll take a closer look at what these leading tech players are doing in the healthcare realm—which is to say, what they’re doing to help you live to 100 or beyond. Have a read, then start planning that hundredth birthday party!
A TIME Magazine cover from 2013 was simple. A plain white background made the two biggest words on the cover stand out even more: Google, in the classic font of the search bar, and the word DEATH—yes, in all caps. “Can Google cure death?” the magazine asked.
The cover story was about Calico, Google’s notably stealthy healthcare venture (which Vox has dubbed an “impenetrable fortress”). The article outlined how the search engine giant saw longevity or expanding the human lifespan, as its next “moonshot.” The year after the article published, Calico announced a partnership with pharma giant AbbVie and a $1.5 billion research center to develop therapies for people with age-related diseases. But in general, Calico has remained a secret venture since its 2013 launch.
What’s not so secretive is the fact that Google has one of the largest data troves in the world, thanks to users’ daily interactions with its search engine. To put it simply, some of that data could help develop ways for us live longer. Various Alphabet projects have been testing the potential for AI to assist in healthcare delivery—particularly in diagnostics. Meanwhile, Verily (as the company’s life sciences research arm has been renamed) has developed a watch for medical research capable of monitoring heart rates using ECG and has been positioning it as a medical research tool for studies related to cardiovascular and movement disorders. The ECG feature was approved by the FDA in 2019. In both instances, new technologies can help doctors diagnose deadly diseases earlier and treat them better, preventing premature deaths.
I could fill a whole article with specific examples of deep-learning algorithms targeting everything from tumors to diabetes, but you get the point. The company’s investment arm also invested in around 60 life science companies between 2009 and 2018, according to CNBC. Google is the world’s dominant search engine in the world thanks to innovative thinking, impressive technology, and a significant amount of data at the company’s core. As it continues to invest and develop new algorithms and hardware with a health focus, you’ll be using Google to “search” for a better life, not just better restaurants.
Similarly, Apple is known for its smartphones and laptops, but it has built a massive healthcare platform and software development tools. More specifically, its Health app is the central repository for health data that sits on the iPhone, aggregating data from health records, wearables and other devices to provide a more holistic view of the user’s health. The company has opened its healthcare API to third-party developers. Additionally, its Apple Watch now includes a single-lead ECG, which can identify early warning signs of health complications as well.
According to Morgan Stanley, Apple could grow its healthcare revenue to as much as $313 billion by 2027. The healthcare market is three times as large as the smartphone market. “We believe the shift to consumer-centric healthcare requires empowering the consumer and changing consumer behavior,” the report says, adding: “Many large tech platforms rely on maximizing consumer experience and engagement … We’d argue that technology companies are better equipped to influence the consumer than healthcare companies.”
Of course, Apple’s overall sales isn’t really the point here; instead, it’s just yet another indicator of the innovation taking place in tech with an eye towards health. Once again, that innovation will have a tangible impact on people’s health and life spans. I spent some time with a friend who, in the middle of our conversation, asked if we could get up and go for a walk. He was more tuned into his own physical activity simply because of the Apple Watch strapped to his wrist—a gadget that can also provide crucial data to his doctors so they can offer better care. Apple is making it routine for people to take proactive steps to live longer, in addition to offering another avenue for early detection when things go wrong.
Finally, we come to Microsoft which, as The Verge put it, is trying to “push doctors to the cloud” and “eventually have artificial intelligence analyzing data.” The strategy is to partner directly with healthcare organizations, offering them tools, like a chatbot, a secure communication hub, and Azure (its cloud system) API to share data safely in the cloud—all steps that are meant to improve clinical outcomes and enable personalized care. Microsoft even hired Jim Weinstein, the former CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, and former Verily employee Joshua Mandel to lead this push.
Microsoft is also working on personalized medicine, which tailors treatment to the individual—often down to the level of the genome. I like to think of this as the second wave in the fight against cancer. Big pharma has already made great strides in drug development. But the next phase of the fight won’t come from pharma at all; it will come from tech players like Microsoft, who have the perfect recipe of data, tech, and an eye for disruption.
To that end, Microsoft’s computational biology projects include research support tools for next-generation precision healthcare, genomics, immunomics, CRISPR, and cellular and molecular biologics. The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has the world’s largest public repository of pediatric cancer genomics data, and Microsoft Genomics provides accelerated sequencing and secondary analysis for it.
The bottom line
Our life spans are about to get longer, not because traditional healthcare players invest heavily in R&D or shift their strategies, but because disruptors like Google, Apple, and Microsoft will bring a completely different paradigm to the industry’s problems. Disruptive thinking is in their DNA—and a longevity revolution is right around the corner.