Alexa, I Feel Sick … Can Big Tech Solve the Growing Crisis in Healthcare?

Healthcare costs are much higher in the U.S. than in comparable countries, but we're sicker and die younger. There is a lot of room for improvement.

It’s pretty clear, the U.S. healthcare system is in need of a major upgrade. Spending increased 4.3 percent in 2016 to $9,024 per capita and accounted for 17.9 percent of the GDP. To give some perspective, Switzerland, with its comprehensive and well-organized (it is Swiss, after all) system came in second, with individuals paying on average $6,787, or about 75 percent of what we do.

You could almost justify paying such a high price, except for the tragic reality that our outcomes are so bad. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, the U.S. life expectancy is now shorter than 30 other countries', we ranked 13th in medical coverage and more people died in the U.S. from preventable diseases or complications than in 12 other high-income countries -- all in all, pretty grim statistics, given that almost a fifth of our GDP and a fair amount of your paychecks are going to healthcare costs.

With such abysmal statistics, healthcare’s impact on productivity and the bottom line and the small fact that global spending on healthcare is now on course to reach more than $18 trillion in 2040, it’s little wonder that Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook are all vying for their place in the often chaotic, ever-growing health marketplace.

Alexa, how do I get to the nearest Amazon clinic?

In case you stopped reading the news or turned off Alexa, Amazon recently made a few very well-publicized healthcare moves. One of the most highly touted was its decision to partner with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to create a new company to provide lower-cost, higher-quality healthcare for its 840,000 employees. While seemingly small in the scope of the overall market, if successful, it could serve as a model for the future of care and potentially disrupt the health system as we know it. 

As if changing the face of healthcare wasn’t enough, in June it was reported that Amazon intended to pay $1B to acquire Pillpack and enter the growing $328B annual prescription drug market. Given Pillpack’s strong infrastructure and Amazon’s logistics capability, it’s not surprising that this simple statement sent Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid’s stock prices plummeting up to 11 percent.

These announcements come in addition to the work that Amazon has already quietly been doing the past few years, including the creation of 1492. Though little has recently been written about it, the entity was designed to help Amazon develop its presence in a number of lucrative healthcare markets. In particular, it was reported that its staff was working to streamline medical records management to improve access and availability for doctors and consumers. Additionally, it was said to also be looking at ways to improve U.S. healthcare for those with limited access to doctors, including the development of a new telemedicine platform to provide virtual consultations.

Finally, what report on Amazon would be complete without mentioning dear Alexa. The company continues to look at new ways to use Alexa’s growing AI capabilities to address some of the world’s most critical healthcare challenges. Initiatives include helping patients manage their diabetes and supporting initiatives to use it to help the elderly in their homes.

AppleCare takes on a whole new meaning.

Not to be left out, in January 2018 Apple announced that it would be bringing personal health records to an iPhone near you…which basically means everywhere. At last check, nearly 40 health systems had given access to patients to view their medical records on their iPhones, a big increase from the initial 12 health systems that had signed before the company announced in January. 

This was soon followed by the announcement that Apple would be launching its own primary care clinics, called AC Wellness, to address the needs of its more than 120,000 employees. The clinics were supposed to open in the spring, and some 40 staff have already been hired in anticipation, including several former Stanford Health Care employees

This article originally appeared on October 22, 2018 on

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