- Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. filed applications for 313 healthcare patents between 2013 and 2017, according to a new EY report.
- With 186 patents, Google LLC parent Alphabet is largely focused on its DeepMind artificial intelligence company and Verily Life Sciences.
- These and other advances are spurring medtech and biopharma companies to form digital partnerships and pilot programs of their own. For example, Philips has developed an automated cloud-based prescription drug dispensing service for seniors.
Alphabet's healthcare initiatives include joint ventures with Onduo (a partnership between Sanofi and Google's Verily) in diabetes, Galvani Bioelectronics (a joint venture between Verily and GlaxoSmithKline plc) in bioelectronics and Verb Surgical (founded with Verily funding and a Johnson & Johnson unit) in smart operating room technology.
Microsoft's 73 patents have focused on expanding its AI capabilities and developing monitoring devices for chronic conditions, EY's analysis shows.
Meanwhile, Apple — with 54 patents — is eyeing ways to turn its iPhones into medical devices that capture biometric data such as blood pressure and body fat levels. The company also teamed up with Stanford University to develop algorithms to predict abnormal heart rates using Apple Watch data.
The report also points to Amazon's growing interest in healthcare delivery, including its recent collaboration with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan to form an independent company to tackle employees' healthcare costs. The e-commerce powerhouse is expanding efforts to provide medical supplies to U.S. hospitals and outpatient clinics and exploring opportunities in drug distribution via a secret Seattle-based team referred to as 1492.
But technology disrupters and advances will face challenges as more providers and payers move to value-based care models. For example, risk-based incentives and reimbursement cuts could dampen investment and uptake of promising innovations.
"Health stakeholders will continue to demand products that offer a step change in health outcomes, but they will also demand that the products be affordable," the report says. "That's important to note because even major clinical breakthroughs now face the prospect of diminishing returns as cost-conscious payers require proof of real-world value before covering many new medicines and devices."