The Healthcare Innovation Amazon and Apple Should Focus On
It is no secret that Amazon has a secret artificial intelligence healthcare project called 1492. Amazon is making several strategic moves into the healthcare vertical, including hiring machine learning experts, investing in healthcare startups, and sponsoring hackathon-type innovation challenges with six-digit prizes for killer apps that can leverage Alexa, Amazon’s voice-recognition software.
Apple and Google are in the mix as well. Apple wants to systematize all your medical records on your iPhone in much the way they did with iTunes, effectively rendering other hardware and media irrelevant. It’s safe to say Google isn’t stopping their foray into healthcare with Google Health.
While healthcare is an obviously target-rich industry rife with myriad innovation opportunities to leverage advanced artificial intelligence-driven solutions, there exists one patient-centered approach that could change the game forever.
THE REAL NEED
Eighteen months ago I was lucky enough to be rescued and survive a massive cardiac arrest suffered during a mountain bike ride. Recovery from trauma and the ensuing transition to the daily vigilance of a chronic condition gives rise to a clear and compelling human need that remains unmet: getting back to normal.
As patients, we simply want our life back. We want to enjoy the people and passions in our life to the fullest. But in order to do that, we need help. Unfortunately, that help is out of reach.
For example, three months into my recovery, I noticed that simply walking up a flight of stairs took my breath away. That might not seem strange for a heart attack victim, but I had been back on my mountain bike within a month of my incident, pedaling just fine…not going all out, of course, but certainly not out of breath. But as time marched on, things had gotten progressively worse. I knew my heart was fine, because I’d recently had a followup echocardiogram: the pipes were clear and the pump strong.
Something was going on, and I wanted to talk to someone. But I couldn’t simply text my cardiologist with a question, unless I became a “concierge patient,” to the tune of $8000 annually. I couldn’t rely on internet sites, because the information was generic, biased, and in fact often just plain wrong.
I had to make an office appointment, which of course took weeks. They drew blood, and a week later they called to tell me I was anemic. They didn’t know why. It was left to me to figure it out. I had changed nothing in my diet. The only thing different was the cocktail of medications I was taking.
Upon investigation, and sorting through opaque drug studies, I discovered that a certain percentage of males over 50 taking the specific brands of both blood emollients and statins developed anemia within six months. Iron uptake was being blocked.
I brought this to the attention of my cardiologist, and demanded a medication change to similar drugs that didn’t have the same side effects. Within a week my hemoglobin count was back to normal. In fact, I was riding my bike just as fast if not faster than before my incident.
My cardiologist is not to blame, because his job is saving my life, not my livelihood. So who or what can help me with that?
Every patient wants and needs what I’ll call “conversational care,” which can be thought of as the healthcare version of conversational commerce, which most consumers experience through AI-driven text and chat applications. Hundreds of apps with text-only interfaces exist, like Quora and Operator. And we’re all familiar with chat and chat bots.
With conversational care, I’d be able to get my questions answered.
“Alexa, is it ok to eat grapefruit when on Lipitor?”
“Ok, Google, what’s the best time to take Plavix if I want to work out today?”
“Hey Siri, why am I so out of breath today?”
Irrespective of the device — be it mobile, wearable, home speaker — I should be able to get my questions answered, cheaply, accurately, specifically, so that I can get back to normal. I should be able to have a conversation with a knowledgeable resource that can give me peace of mind.
And it goes without saying that having an ongoing conversation regarding my health focused not on recovery but rather prevention would be invaluable. Wearables that give me leading indicators would inform the questions I ask.
All of that is within reach, and my one hope as a patient is that the Amazons, Apples, and Googles of the world focus their vast resources on patient-centered innovation that meets these pressing needs.
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Matthew E. May is the author, most recently, of Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking.