Here's where tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon stand in their race to revolutionize healthcare

Allana Akhtar
·5 min read
microsoft healthcare
Microsoft just made a huge investment to bolster its healthcare tech. Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Here are the biggest moves tech giants have made into healthcare over the last few years.

  • Microsoft recently agreed to buy AI firm Nuance for $19.7B to bolster healthcare tech.

  • Amazon has made investments in a variety of spaces, while Google Health has struggled to make money.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Microsoft just made its second-largest acquisition ever to buy AI firm Nuance for its healthcare-specific cloud technology - and it's just one way tech giants are investing heavily in digitizing medicine.

The COVID-19 crisis in many ways put shortcomings in healthcare - like worker shortages and the prevalence of health conditions among young people - on display to the public.

But the $3.6 trillion industry has been a hot bed for investment and hiring as experts predict healthcare to boom as Baby Boomers get older and require more care.

The country's largest tech firms - Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Apple - have been hot on the healthcare trail for years. Here are tech's most recent moves and news as it seeks to revolutionize the care industry.

Read more: Microsoft's healthcare strategy is all about the cloud. 2 executives lay out how it's taking on Google and Amazon as tech giants push deeper into the $3.6 trillion healthcare industry.

Microsoft

Microsoft launched Cloud for Healthcare, the company's first industry-specific cloud offering, late last year. The product allows healthcare professionals to schedule and conduct virtual patient visits within Microsoft Teams, and monitor patients' medical devices remotely through Azure.

The tech firm is attempting to plant its flag in digitizing and improving medical records to decrease the administrative tasks physicians need to do and lessen clinician burnout.

Microsoft has already worked with Nuance's voice recognition and artificial intelligence tools to take note of conversations between patients and clinicians during telehealth visits on Microsoft Teams.

"We believe that our solutions coupled with Microsoft's platform and capabilities will bring actually the practice of medicine back to that intimate physician, patient interaction, and really reduce that administrative burden," Nuance CEO Mark Benjamin told CNBC on the morning the acquisition was announced.

The success or failure of Microsoft's healthcare ambitions can have implications for how the the firm builds industry-specific tools in the future, Insider's Ashley Stewart and Blake Dodge reported.

Amazon

Like its sprawling e-commerce and cloud-computing ventures, Amazon has bet big on healthcare using multiple avenues.

The company launched Amazon Pharmacy in November, which can send most US customers their prescription medicine with no delivery fee. Prime members get special benefits, like discounts up to 80% on generic drugs when paying without insurance and two-day delivery when using Amazon Pharmacy.

Read more: Amazon wants to provide medical care to workers at major companies. Here's an inside look at Amazon Care.

Amazon said its recently-debuted Halo wearable can analyze a user's voice through their speech and calculate body fat percentage using a smartphone camera, two features that separate it from competitors Fitbit and Apple Watch.

But Amazon's most ambitious endeavor is developing a way to connect workers at other companies with primary care specialists for online and in-person visits. Insider reported Amazon intends to sell the primary care service - dubbed Amazon Care - to companies looking to decrease the cost of employee healthcare.

Google

Google has had perhaps the most tumultuous time establishing a healthcare venture.

Three top Google Health executives - including the director of global deployment - recently left the project. The tech giant first launched Google health in 2012 but shuttered it after only two years due to little user interest.

Though Google Health came back under new leadership in 2018, Insider's Blake Dodge and Hugh Langley have reported that the team has struggled to define its mission and figure out how to make money.

Read more: The 16 power players at Google Health shaping the tech giant's secretive healthcare business

Public backlash over privacy concerns hindered Google Health's first major partnership with health system Ascension to store health records in the cloud. The US opened a probe into the partnership to determine whether Google's use of medical records breaks privacy law.

And insiders said Verily, a life sciences research company, might break away from Google's parent company Alphabet to run as an independent company.

Google's health venture has had recent wins, like finalizing its $2.1 acquisition of Fitbit in January. US regulators are still determining whether the deal breaks anti-competition law. The company also launched Care Studio, a tool that helps clinicians organize patient data, and started a $100 million partnership between Google Cloud and telehealth platform Amwell.

Apple

Apple has continued to invest in helping users with personal health through the Watch.

In September, Apple debuted a new $400 Apple Watch that measures a wearer's blood oxygen levels and heart rhythms.

And though not exactly healthcare, Apple just launched Fitness Plus, a subscription workout service that rivals Peloton. The $9.99 per month feature requires an Apple Watch to sign up. Insurer UnitedHealthcare offered enrollees a free six-month subscription to Fitness Plus.

Similar to Google, some Apple insiders had said in 2019 the health team lacked focus and growth.

Microsoft and Google did not have additional comment to add. Amazon and Apple were not immediately available for comment.

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