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What the Big 4 Tech Companies Have to Offer to the Healthcare Sector?

Technology

Nov 25, 2020 - 10 minutes read

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Objectivity Innovative leader in technologies

Our specialty is designing, delivering, and supporting IT solutions to help our clients succeed. We have an ethical framework that underpins everything we do. Our underlying philosophy is that every client engagement should result in a Win-Win and this is supported by our four values: People, Integrity, Excellence, and Agility. Our clients are at the heart of our business and we are proud to form long-lasting working relationships, the longest of which is 29 years. Our goal is to continue to grow our business whilst remaining true to the ethical framework and values on which we are founded.

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The healthcare sector is constantly in need of new sophisticated digital solutions. Nowadays, the ageing society demands more care than ever, contemporary issues require more advanced medical treatments, new electronic devices in users’ hands and larger amounts of data to work with. The COVID-19 outbreak has also changed our habits and the ways in which we access health specialists. On top of that, many experts started to notice the lack of interoperability between the systems and institutions and see it as a big problem that needs to be addressed.

The market for digital solutions is immense, in their report from the pre-COVID times the Global Market Insights claims, that the digital health market can be worth almost 600 billion euro by 2026. According to the NHS long term plan, just in the UK, the national health services provider may spend 16 billion euro on investment in health R&D by 2028. Now, it’s almost certain that these numbers will be even higher.

It’s no surprise that big tech companies aim to increase their overall presence in the sector of health and wellbeing. Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google) and Apple have invested tremendous amounts of money and engaged many resources to provide consumers, patients, and healthcare organisations (HCOs) with better and more integrated digital solutions.

When you look at their portfolio, you’ll be able to find:

  • Well-known mass products that can be adapted to the needs of the healthcare sector—tools like videoconferencing, call desks, office suites, survey solutions.
  • Entire cloud infrastructure solutions to store and share medical data between parties with compliance to relevant healthcare standards on security and interoperability.
  • Tools to analyse data for research and diagnostics purposes.
  • Mobile apps to store patients’ data, capable of connecting to external devices and synchronising with the cloud.

Google

According to Google, approximately 7% of all web searches are related to health. Therefore, it’s only logical that the company decided to take a closer look at this domain.

At the moment, Cloud Healthcare API is the biggest Google solution for the healthcare sector; it’s been available since April 2020. The service allows for the exchanging of data between healthcare applications and digital solutions built on Google Cloud. The promoted API is based on the FHIR protocol which allows organisations to import and store data coming from multiple sources in an open standard way. It supports multiple healthcare data standards such as the HL7® FHIR®, HL7® v2, and DICOM®.

The main features of the solution are:

  • Storing, managing, and gaining actionable data insights in the FHIR format.
  • Support of HL7v2 messages.
  • Support of DICOM data (medical imaging information).
  • Obfuscating (anonymising) health data in order for it to be used by analytic tools and AI applications.
  • Options to manage privacy and consent policies.
  • Integration with large-scale analytic and machine learning tools on the Google Cloud Platform, i.e. Dataflow, BigQuery, AI Platform, and Looker. 

research analysis

https://cloud.google.com/blog/topics/healthcare-life-sciences/getting-to-know-the-google-cloud-healthcare-api-part-1

Google Workspace for healthcare is another relevant product in Google’s offer.

It’s a set of well-known Google tools that can be used in healthcare organisations. Patient video appointments can take place on Google Meet, information can be kept in Google Docs, Sheets or files stored in Google Drive.

It also offers collaboration capabilities for remote work. With G Suite and Google Meet, healthcare and life science organisations can digitally connect with employees and colleagues to drive their projects forward while dealing with the new reality of remote work. Furthermore, Chrome Enterprise allows healthcare providers, like Hackensack Meridian Health, to access the files and information they need on the go.

Google Health (Google’s EHR) is an ambitious project that’s still in the piloting phase. Google wants to create an AI-powered EHR data aggregation tool for clinicians. They aim to create a single point where clinicians will be able to look at the data related to their patients—one place for vitals, labs, medications, notes and reports. The biggest advantage of the solution would obviously be the built-in search functionality with features like autocomplete and autocorrect. There’s no official release date for this solution as of yet.

Microsoft

Microsoft officially released Cloud for Healthcare on 30th October, 2020. This is the first industry-dedicated cloud provided by Microsoft. This solution integrates all the Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Azure (Cloud platform), Microsoft 365 (mostly office tools) suite, Dynamics (ERP + CRM) and Azure IoT with a healthcare data model.

The solution focuses on three aspects:

Improve patient experience by providing self-service portals for patients, and creating areas and applications that can help patients interact directly with health teams, e.g. via videoconferencing.

Create an easily accessible holistic view into the patient’s health status called 360-degree patient view. The whole solution is built on a data model designed specifically for healthcare. The data should be available to patients and health staff. This can be achieved by acquiring and sharing data from different data points with sector standard FHIR, accessing EHR or connecting external devices with IoT. All this should enable HCOs to get a holistic insight into patients’ health.

Help health organisations manage operations by letting them organise a health staff calendar, assign care teams, able to access patients’ data and a timeline of visits. The connection to IoT allows the care teams to monitor patients also outside clinical facilities.

Microsoft HC cloud

https://cloudblogs.microsoft.com/industry-blog/health/2020/09/22/creating-a-resilient-patient-centered-healthcare-system/

Azure API for FHIR offered as a component of Azure PaaS is an integral part of this solution. FHIR is becoming the industry standard for exchanging and managing healthcare information. The API itself has been available since 2019. Microsoft is still involved in the open source space software (OSS). They publish and maintain the OSS version of this PaaS offering as an FHIR Server available on GitHub.

The API can help any organisation deal with protected health information, and to import, share, and store data in the Azure cloud. It allows for data to be acquired from multiple sources (e.g. EHR, IoT devices, research labs) in a single consistent format that makes the data viable for actionable analysis and machine learning purposes.

Many organisations are taking advantage of Teams. Standalone Microsoft Teams works well for virtual consultations taking place inside the HCOs (e.g. doctor to doctor communication) and outside the organisation (e.g. with external HCO experts). A good example of adopting this tool is the UK Public Healthcare sector. NHS and NHS Digital estimate that 65 million messages have been sent across both of these organisations since they started using Teams in March this year.

Teams combined with an additional application called Bookings App gives HCOs extra options. Bookings App provides the functionality of virtual visits which are a great alternative to meeting with patients in person. Moreover, invitations are sent directly from the organisation instead of from an individual doctor’s email address, which helps to keep medical staff’s addresses from being exposed to the public. The app provides a simple custom link to the video visit that can be opened in a web browser on a PC or mobile without any need to provide credentials. The scheduler can see the doctor’s calendar and the invitation can be based on a simple template provided by the organisation.

Healthcare Bot is one of Microsoft’s Azure-hosted solutions that can be very helpful to patients. It can triage them with a symptom checker, guide them to receive appropriate help, provide relevant information, look for nearby doctors and schedule the visit in an available slot.

Currently, Microsoft is also previewing its new component, IoT Connector for FHIR. The new API will enable organisations to securely acquire protected health data from an array of patients’ devices when it’s necessary. Internet of Medical Things should find its place in the remote patient monitoring programs, with patients staying in their homes.

In their solutions, Microsoft supports HIPAA and GDPR, ISO 27001 compliance and is HITRUST-certified.

Amazon

AWS Data Centers and cloud services already serve as infrastructure for many industries including healthcare. Amazon claims that all its relevant services are HIPAA compliant and all the AWS Services are GDPR ready.

Amazon does not have a FHIR-specific offering yet. However, AWS has launched an open source project called FHIR Works on AWS. This open source toolkit can be used by software teams to include FHIR solutions, and therefore increase their interoperability in the healthcare domain. It can be used to build software connectors between HCOs’ legacy interfaces and the current FHIR standard. Finally, it includes guidance on how to customise the default FHIR Works on AWS’s API to their individual needs with specific FHIR Implementation Guides.

Visit this site for more details on how to integrate it into your software.

https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/opensource/using-open-source-fhir-apis-with-fhir-works-on-aws/

Amazon also offers healthcare organisations Amazon Connect. In essence, this solution is an enterprise contact centre. It offers multiple communication channels that could help HCOs manage their communication with patients. This way, they’ll be able to answer the large volume of inbound calls or utilise chatbots to support their staff.

To support the fight with COVID-19, Amazon has become a member of the COVID-19 HPC Consortium. Research institutions working on diagnostics and developing treatments or vaccines for the pandemic can apply for promotional credits and easier access to Amazon’s cloud resources such as HPC and storage.

Amazon also provides access to a COVID-19 dataset generated by Johns Hopkins University. The data can be found on the AWS Data Exchange.

Amazon Care is another interesting initiative worth following. Amazon, in cooperation with their health partner Oasis Medical Group, launched a digital solution addressed exclusively to their employees. The features of the solution revolve around telemedicine and providing access to contact nurses or doctors via chat and video calls. The solution contains care history, i.e. diagnosis, notes, treatment plan. It also includes payment options. Many analysts believe that this solution is a pilot and, Amazon will soon offer a similar product to a wider audience.

Amazon has also released a new wearable device. It’s a fitness and health band called Alexa Halo, which was released earlier in 2020.

Apple

It’s no surprise that Apple places their devices at the centre of their healthcare solutions. With over 1 billion active accounts, the company decided to enable their users to access their whole health status directly on their phones. This can be a great opportunity for HCOs to stay in touch with their patients. However, it can also put pressure on institutions to meet public expectations regarding access to convenient IT solutions.

The Health App serves as the access point for customers; every iPhone user can download it. The application can collect and aggregate data from the phone, wearables, and all kinds of third-party devices and apps in order to store and present health metrics. Among others, this data can include running distance, nutrition, sleep analysis, heart rate variability, and weight.

One of the key features of the application is called Health Records. Health Records is Apple’s personal health record system. The feature has been available in the USA for two years now, and since 7th October, 2020, it can also be used in the UK and Canada. The Health Records app allows its users to securely view and store their medical data on their iPhones. In the UK, the first institutions to support the solutions are the Oxford University Hospitals and the Milton Keynes University Hospital.

A list of all organisations that support the Health Records feature can be found on the Apple website.

Apple app

https://www.apple.com/uk/newsroom/2020/10/health-records-on-iphone-available-today-in-the-uk/

Apple HealthKit is a framework designed for developers. It allows them to exchange data with the Health Records. Applications that use HealthKit can produce and send data to the iPhone if granted the required permissions. The solution can be used to retrieve data from fitness or health devices and to share the acquired data with healthcare professionals when it’s needed. Integrating this data with EHR systems is one of the possible use cases.

Moreover, Apple runs two open source projects. ResearchKit helps with collecting data from patients via surveys or active tasks to capture sensor information. Whereas CareKit assists people in following their care plans and shares information with their care teams when it’s needed.

Summary

The IT market in the healthcare sector is becoming crowded with a wide range of digital solutions offered by multiple vendors. At the beginning of each software project, it’s difficult to judge straightaway which products are most suitable for the needs of your organisation and patients. Pricing is another important factor. Requirement analysis is a crucial part of every project. From our experience, the best fit is often a combination of bespoke development paired with various suitable tools and components that are already available on the market (and come from different vendors or open source projects).

Integrating them to build a sound IT solution that’s capable of answering the needs of HCOs is often challenging. That said, using modern open standards like FHIR and strictly obeying data security policies makes it much easier and allows for building these solutions as long-term investments.

It’s a good choice to rely on an experienced technology partner who knows how to tailor solutions according to individual needs and the available project budget. A trusted IT company can help the organisations with market research and choosing the right tools. Adopting and integrating them into existing systems is often the best way to create efficient software solutions for healthcare. A seamless merger of the new with the legacy is key in creating an ecosystem that’s efficient for the organisation and convenient for its patients.

Read our eBook report on The Top 3 HCO Technology Challenges & How to Solve Them to learn more about the importance of interoperability and other technology best practices relating to the specific challenges of healthcare organisations.

Authors

Łukasz Mielczarek

Cross-Programme Business Analyst

Senior Business Analyst with over 15 years of experience in software development. He’s responsible for developing healthcare IT services at Objectivity.

Maciej Komorowski

Solution Architect

Solution Architect with over 20 years of experience working in software design and development of projects of all sizes. Technical project lead, Architect, Product Owner. Cloud practitioner with a strong interest in system integration and messaging scenarios.

1553 Devops Whitepaper News Section 416X300 EN
Objectivity Innovative leader in technologies

Our specialty is designing, delivering, and supporting IT solutions to help our clients succeed. We have an ethical framework that underpins everything we do. Our underlying philosophy is that every client engagement should result in a Win-Win and this is supported by our four values: People, Integrity, Excellence, and Agility. Our clients are at the heart of our business and we are proud to form long-lasting working relationships, the longest of which is 29 years. Our goal is to continue to grow our business whilst remaining true to the ethical framework and values on which we are founded.

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