The healthcare industry is a booming sector with many players getting involved each year with new ideas. With the exploitation of technology at its height, the Silicon Valley technology giants Google, Apple and Facebook are not far behind in the race of getting their share of this pie.

It is really simple. Do you own a smartphone? Almost everybody today does and there is a good chance you are using your smartphone to read this article. We are all well aware that most smartphones run on Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS platforms and everybody has a Facebook account and its application on their phones.

More importantly, three of the biggest players in tech — Apple, Google, and Samsung — have all thrown their weight behind platform plays aiming to aggregate and simplify the universe of devices and apps available to consumers. Using a smartphone as the central hub for tracking, analysing, and motivating exercise is a common phenomenon now.

Google

Let us talk about Google and Apple first as Facebook has yet to make a foray into this sector but is plotting its first steps in the fertile field of healthcare. Google presently offers Android Wear fitness support and is also reportedly bringing in more health services to its Android Lollipop mobile operating system. Health tracking app MyFitnessPal claims over 65 million registered users, and is one of the most popular digital health apps in the Android ecosystem.

Apple’s Health and Google Fit can help reach a broader audience and forge partnerships with the traditional health care industry that would be hard for start-ups to accomplish alone. More recently, Apple launched new Health focused apps as part of iOS 8, allowing users to track their fitness goals and supported gadgets.

Way back in 2008, Google launched Google Health, a project to help users unify and easily access the medical data stored in different places by different providers. The project didn’t catch on and was shut down in 2013. Probably learning from that, the new Google Fit app & platform is focused more on health tracking and exercise.

In September 2013, Google established an independent R&D lab, Calico, a biotechnology company focused on age-related diseases. Late last year, pharma major Abbott Laboratories’ AbbVie signed a research partnership worth up to $1.5 billion with Calico to develop new drugs to counter degenerative disorders.

Last year Google also unveiled a smart contact lens that detects blood glucose level through tears, which was licensed by another pharma giant, Novartis, in July. That same month, Google launched Project Baseline, an anonymized genetic database to identify biomarkers related to common diseases. Though Sales were stopped last month, Google Glass is gaining momentum as a great hands-free companion for doctors. Several hospitals have started using the Glass to streamline everyday routines, while startups like Augmedix are streaming EHRs to the Glass’s heads-up display.

Apple

On the other hand, Apple is ready to try its hand at the notoriously difficult challenge of collaborating with doctors and health care providers, and it has enlisted a powerful ally. At WWDC, the annual developer conference & PR event, Apple announced its partnership with Epic Systems, which claims to manage over 54 per cent of patient records in the United States.

Thus, with a single deal, Apple could begin absorbing health data of more than half of the US patients and displaying it on its devices. Their doctors, in turn, could begin to see what’s happening with their patients in between visits, right on their smartphones & tablets.

Also read: 10 great gadgets for tech-savvy doctors

Facebook

Healthcare has historically not been an area of interest for Facebook. They certainly want to keep up with their neighbouring rivals, but the social network has another motivation to follow the trend into healthcare – the success of its organ-donor status feature.

In 2012, Facebook added an organ donor status to the Life Events section of the profile page, where users can identify themselves as organ donors. The company is exploring creating online ‘support communities’, that would connect Facebook users suffering from various ailments, creating a place where patients can chat and receive advice and guidance from others with similar health concerns.

A small team is also considering new preventative care applications that would help people improve their lifestyle, track calories and maybe deliver customized workout plans. Though support groups aren’t new, the popularity of Facebook could give these communities, such as PatientsLikeMe, an advantage in reaching out to more users.

Contributed by Dr. Rachita Narsaria, MD

Related reading:

  1. Best Health Apps to Recommend to Patients
  2. How Mobile Devices are Changing Healthcare
  3. Android or iPhone: What should a doctor choose?