Health care providers have beenslowly loosening the grips on their wealth of data, softening up tothe likes of health analytics startups. (Photo:Shutterstock)

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Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook. These tech giants have builttheir success on cutting-edge technology used to collect data andtransform it into meaningful information. The health care industryis a wealth of data. Unfortunately, the holders of that wealth arereticent to share it.

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The interest and investment in the health care sector in recentyears by major tech companies is a testament to the potential formajor changes in just about every area–price transparency, memberexperience, customer service, claims data. “All of these areas areripe for transformation by bringing these big names in, by bringingdata to the forefront because all have been sorely lacking.” saysMichael Levin, ceo and co-founder of health care data servicescompany Vericred.

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Microsoft launched a health care unit in June, a key developmentin its Healthcare NExT initiative, announced last year. Accordingto Investopedia, the new unit will look tomodernize IT structures and utilize data analytics to drive value-based care.

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Google also has a sizeable footprint in the health care space,one that grows bigger every day. The SEO behemoth is sicing itsanalytical prowess to create tools that can sift through apatient's medical history and predict diseases and forecastoutcomes.

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Related: How captured data is being used to create healthprofiles

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Apple is also getting in on the action, focusing on the electronic health records space. This spring,the company deployed its Apple Health Records for use among 12health care systems, with another 27 waiting in the wings. The toolcreates interoperability between the health care provider andpatient, allowing them to access data and get updates on theirsmartphones.

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Following its bout of bad press earlier this year, Facebook hasquietly shelved an exploration of data-sharing partnerships with health careproviders, but it's only a matter of time before such talksresurface.

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What does all this mean for the health care space? “Thefootprint and the momentum that those organizations have that arefar in excess of that of a startup looking to transform one part ofthe market,” Levin says. “If Apple makes a request, theimplications there are far more significant. We look at it, andwhile it's unclear to us how these companies are going to helpevolve or transform the ecosystem, the fact that they're involvedis great because it brings credibility, that kind of mass that'snecessary to get providers, insurers and others who have beenreticent to share data to do so.”

Busting down silos

Health care providers have been slowly loosening the grips ontheir wealth of data, softening up to the likes of health analyticsstartups. But data in the health care industry is broken down intoso many parts that it's going to take significant man- andcomputing-power to put it together in a meaningful way. “You pickan element, whether it's claims data, an individual's healthrecord, all the info around insurance, and today it fits in tens orhundreds of different silos,” Levin says. “Bringing all that datatogether to make it useful is a significant effort.”

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Bringing in the likes of Google or Apple, companies who know howto aggregate large amounts of data, to bridge the gaps between allof that information would be a boon for health care providers. “Ithink about medicine in economic terms,” says Scott Howell, chiefmedical officer for Advantmed, LLC. “I think about things in termsof asymmetric decision-making–you don't have all the informationcoming in to you during your office visit. Making decisions onasymmetric information and not having a full picture is where Ithink interoperability will help out.”

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Related: Machine learning ready to rock the health careindustry

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The interoperability works both ways. The 15 or 20 minutes adoctor spends with a patient is the least productive, Howellsays–it's what they're doing the other 23 hours of the day that hasthe potential to dramatically change care outcomes. And thoseactivities can be easily monitored via Apple Watch or similarwearable devices. “Having that time that we know what's going onand having that information come back to us would be very helpful,”Howell says. “Maybe I get an alert and make a phone call. Thatintegration between monitoring and telemedicine is probably in itsinfancy, but I think that's going to be the next step of AI. Havingit out there to monitor and evaluate, and then we can haveinterventions much earlier on.”

Building a bigger picture

Apps, no doubt, will become more prevalent as the tech sectorstakes its claim to the health care space, but that won't be a badthing. For example, says Levin, one of Vericred's clients developedan app that helps doctors treat type 2 diabetes utilizing a varietyof factors, such as other health issues or their ability to afforda certain treatment. “That speaks to adherence,” he says. “When youlook at diabetes in the population, the ability to move the needleon quality of care, the cost of care, it's stunning. The only wayyou can really do that is start to bring together the data frommasses.”

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Beyond improving care for individuals, the integration of healthcare data has potential to create change on a marco level, as well.Howell expects that the intervention of the tech industry will havea significant impact on social determinants of care. “In myopinion, the social determinants have a significant impact onbehavioral change and the capabilities of outcomes,” he says. “Forexample, treating someone with an income of $120,000 versus $10,000a year…one has a job, access to good food, while the other personmay be sleeping on a couch, working part-time, has a bad diet.Those patients are completely and totally different, and theapproach you need to take is completely different.”

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Through artificial intelligence and predictive analytics,medical providers will be able to better allocate their time andresources for more effective care. “I think we'll get to be alittle more surgical and precise in what we can do,” he says. “Youcan't touch every single patient in depth. There are certain onesthat we can, and certain ones that can get away with lessinteractions. The analytics allow us to figure out how needs to betouched at an in-depth level and who may not need that level ofintervention.”

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Of course, these tech companies aren't acting out of analtruistic desire to cure the country's health care woes: there'smoney to be had. Still, they're focusing on a market that has longbeen in need of–and staunchly resisted–reform. “These largeorganizations have the capacity to develop things like this, and Ithink that's exciting,” Howell says. “They have the programmers,the tech to support this ancillary backbone of health care. We haveto change behavior, and that's the most difficult thing in theworld to do.”

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For companies like Levin's, already trying to change the systemfrom within, the entrance of the big names is welcome. “Making asignificant push into the space is a sign that change is coming,and that's good for everyone,” he says. “We don't see it as beingcompetitive, we look at it as being tailwinds to the transformationof the market.”

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Emily Payne

Emily Payne is director, content analytics for ALM's Business & Finance Markets and former managing editor for BenefitsPRO. A Wisconsin native, she has spent the past decade writing and editing for various athletic and fitness publications. She holds an English degree and Business certificate from the University of Wisconsin.