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Google, Microsoft, Apple Invest in Health Network Infrastructure

Big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple are increasingly invested health network infrastructure technology as the market value increases.

health network infrastructure

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- The healthcare industry is in the midst of a digital transformation and the tech giants want in. As companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon make strides in the healthcare industry, it’s more important than ever for healthcare organizations to understand their health network infrastructure. Entities should know how the tools and services these tech organizations produce will affect clinicians and patients.

A recent New York Times article, touched on different large tech companies (i.e., Google, Apple, and Microsoft) and how they are each approaching the healthcare industry from both an enterprise technology and patent-facing prospective.

“In the first 11 months of this year, 10 of the largest tech companies in the United States were involved in health care equity deals worth $2.7 billion, up from just $277 million for all of 2012,” the New York Times reported. The tech giants are investing in healthcare startups that are developing new tools for clinicians, patients, researchers, and insurers.

While their focuses vary, Apple, Google, and Microsoft all see the healthcare industry as an opportunity that is too in-demand and too lucrative to pass up.

Apple is honing in on more consumer facing healthcare endeavors. The New York Times article referenced a research study that was made available on the App Store. The Apple Heart Study is run by Stanford University and financed by Apple.

READ MORE: Verification, Automation Strengthen Healthcare Network Security

Apple has always been known for its consumer-facing technology and appears to be focusing on consumer or patient facing uses for that technology. Wide spread patient monitoring apps can reach a much larger group of participants and give researchers a much wider breadth of data to work with.

This is great from a consumer and data gathering perspective. However, organizations need to consider their IT infrastructure when incorporating apps like this. Participants will be connecting with the network through the public internet, which can be a cause for concern.

Consumer-facing healthcare apps aren’t the only healthcare tools Apple has dipped its feet into. Apple Face ID has been suggested as a potential identity authentication tool, especially in BYOD scenarios, to eliminate password theft and fraud.

However, some IT security professionals and users are skeptical of using an entirely different kind of technology for security, according to a recent Bitglass survey.

Respondents were very much divided on the tool’s reliability. Thirty-nine percent questioned Apple Face ID’s ability to accurately detect the user’s face. Thirty percent were concerned about false positives, while 23 percent were skeptical of the speed of face detection.

READ MORE: Top 5 Health IT Infrastructure Trends to Watch in 2018

Other concerns included low light functionality (21 percent), secure on-device storage (21 percent), and user health issues such as blindness (11 percent).

Apple has yet to achieve the healthcare reputation of Microsoft and Google because it is not focused on enterprise tools. But Apple is more likely to engage patients in the future with patient face apps.

Microsoft has already made a name for itself in the healthcare industry as one of the leading cloud service providers. Going off of its Azure platform, Microsoft has also collaborated with different vendors to offer new tools to healthcare providers.

For example, Microsoft recently collaborated with Cray Supercomputers to bring artificial intelligence tools into the cloud so they can be used by healthcare organizations that cannot afford the physical computing power needed to run full scale artificial intelligence analytics solutions.

Google is also making strides in healthcare enterprise technology. In November, Google announced collaborations with several health IT vendors to give them a broader and more flexible platform for clinicians to access medical images.

READ MORE: Why Cloud, Virtualization Are Key to Healthcare Infrastructure Strategy

The move will give increased interoperability among organizations also using the Google Cloud platform. Change Healthcare and Dicom Systems are two of the medical technology companies collaborating with Google.

Amazon is also working on its EHR technology through its skunkworks project, 1492. Amazon is focused on interoperability among disparate EHR systems. The company hopes to make it easier for healthcare organizations to migrate to new EHR systems and help entities share data with other healthcare systems. The project aims to make EHR data more available to clinicians as well as patients.

These big tech companies see the value in building healthcare technology and it will be more common for organizations to have technology from these companies in their health IT infrastructure.

Large tech companies have the ability to create more tools and purchase smaller tech companies to collaborate with on development. These collaborations can create webs of connected infrastructure tools.

However it’s important for organizations to remain vigilant with their network security especially when patients are collaborating with the network. Apple’s App to study the heart is a good example of healthcare data moving from the consumer to the organization that could put it at risk.

Advanced network monitoring solutions that can keep IT infrastructure tools compatible and detect potential weaknesses are critical when it comes to integrating tools. Visibility and control over the healthcare network are key to ensuring that these vendor tools work together and remain compliant as more health data is shared.

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