Will Silicon Valley be your healthcare provider one day? It’s very likely

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      Meanwhile Google has invested in over 50 health tech companies and gets access to large amounts of patient data through partnerships with medical centres like the Mayo Clinic in the US. And Apple has trialled its health record system with well over a hundred healthcare institutions, is currently testing out its own primary care clinics (initially with its own employees) and has filed patents for a host of wearable medical devices, with the potential to provide a complete, holistic pre-hospital healthcare and wellness service. Apple tends to command greater trust among its billion users than any of its big tech competitors, as its business model doesn’t require exploiting user data through advertising. Crucially, Apple has historically resisted significant pressure from governments in order to protect its users’ data and has, together with Google, opposed demands from the French and British governments who wanted the tech giants to loosen their privacy standards for national contact tracing apps. This is because the approach that Apple and Google are taking to contact tracing is not at all like the one taken by their Chinese counterparts. The Silicon Valley giants have developed a decentralised system that preserves users’ privacy without tracking their location, by processing notifications on individual phones rather than on a central server. In Britain – though the National Health Service arguably has a stronger brand even than Apple – the government’s original plans for a centralised, homegrown NHS app came under considerable criticism over privacy concerns; and the UK eventually switched to base its app on the Apple-Google system.

      ongterm, the Silicon Valley vision for healthcare has to do with leveraging machine learning to provide data-led health services that rely more on proactive monitoring than on treatment. The idea is that hyper-responsive medication and preventative lifestyle measures will minimise costly, complex medical procedures. Artificial intelligence that continually learns from every patient, everywhere will eventually achieve more accurate diagnoses than expensive humans that have to go to medical school. And now with the advent of Crispr-based gene editing technologies, cures to many diseases could turn out to be as programmable as computer code. Crucially for tech companies, the more that large amounts of data are brought to bear in the medical field, the more that healthcare will benefit from the economics of software – with low marginal costs across very large populations. When full healthcare is included with Alibaba’s 88VIP, Amazon Prime or Apple Health, these companies will play a central role in providing for the basic wellbeing of their constituents – a responsibility which has typically been the purview of governments. So, if the best healthcare outcomes will be achieved by the organisations that can aggregate the most data, will there even be a viable alternative to the benevolent dictatorship of Apple?

      It’s way too early to tell how this type of nascent technology will play out and how it might impact Big Tech’s healthcare ambitions. In terms of primary care, when combined with the personal health record system it’s developing, Apple’s expertise in wearables, its user experience and its physical retail footprint (think wellness clinics at Apple Stores) will be hard to beat for those within the company’s ecosystem, whether independent of, augmenting, or feeding into existing national health systems. But a new social contract is being forged in this pandemic. And something that will continue to be tested in the years that follow is who we trust with our data. Rather than our governments or private companies, maybe, just maybe, the answer to that question could lie in a different type of organisational framework altogether.

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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