The Consumer Platform War

A serious challenge for healthcare

In the current state of technology, there’s a war happening between the leaders in tech and it’s not just a war of profits, a fight to steal consumers, and the battle to be number one; it’s a battle to have ownership of a single platform that users buy into and adhere to.

This platform is what Steve Jobs often referred to as “the halo effect” and as an ex-Apple employee, I can attest that the halo effect was a real thing that consumers bought into (often unknowingly) and is something that is a part of my life on a daily basis as a heavy Apple consumer. My phone, laptop, tablet, headphones, watch and TV box are all built and maintained by Apple and as such, work perfectly together and offer a seamless and excellent experience. Will I buy the HomePod? Most certainly, because it means it’ll work with all of my devices as it should.

So where’s the problem?

Well, platforms such as Amazon’s Echo line are proving to be widely adopted by the tech peripheral companies and the price of entry is much lower than the Apple ecosystem. I’m tempted by the Echo Plus, but I’m so bought in to the Apple ecosystem that learning new commands for talking to a different device and having compatibility with some appliances and not others makes it a hard to justify investment.

Where this leads me to, is how can this affect healthcare. After all, I work in the industry.

Well herein lies the problem with the platform war. More and more, technology companies are moving into healthcare and this means that their platforms can potentially require approval via healthcare bodies such as the FDA or NICE (in the UK). The FDA recently announced that it’s looking to progress application from these tech giants more quickly, which is great news for both the consumer and the company, but it also means that technology will be even more closely monitored and be subject to intense medical scrutiny. Having worked in the industry and been through the challenges of just getting a website approved for pharmaceutical companies, I can’t begin to imagine the lead time required to pass any of the technology (such as a future Watch) through the system. It’ll increase consumer wait times and make it more difficult to update.

What then happens when a user is tied into a single platform ecosystem but the medical device their doctor prescribes is part of another?

Pharmaceutical companies rely on their salesforce to drive up prescribing behaviours of doctors in their areas, so how does that work when medical devices are being also prescribed by doctors from tech companies? A doctor who preferences Fitbit over Apple may prescribe a Fitbit smartwatch to an “Apple-lover” patient, who is then enrolled into the Fitbit ecosystem which doesn’t pair with HealthKit on iOS without some hacking. That user is then left with a lackluster experience and the chance of them adhering to the treatment programme is potentially significantly diminished. That neither benefits the patient, or the doctor and could lead to less likelihood for that doctor to prescribe the Fitbit “therapy” to that patient, or others, in the future.

So how do we solve it?

Well I think ultimately this will always prove difficult. With the tech giants moving into healthcare, we’re likely going to have to see some significant policy changes to how the healthcare industry deals with technology and approvals. Consumer tech companies will always want quick turnarounds to get tech in the hands of consumers—the consumers will be demanding this—but healthcare will always want to take a calm and considered approach to approving this new technology to ensure the upmost patient safety and security (and rightly so).

Apple is taking the right first steps by allowing their customers to opt-in to studies using their technology (namely Watch) and by partnering with health institutions such as Stanford University, Oxford University and many others. By doing this, they’re able to use their technology, but avoid the approvals process required to make significant hardware changes for health. Instead, they use data from the heart sensor (which is non-invasive and used for the workouts feature) to look for irregular heartbeats or significant spikes in heartrate with minimal movement.

I expect to see other companies such as Google and Fitbit move into taking a similar approach with healthcare. Google has a spinoff company which focuses solely on healthcare and even partners with pharmaceutical companies to produce products for the future of healthcare without affecting their consumer business. Apple is trying to combine the two (to reach the broadest possible audience) but this is always going to prove challenging.

I would love to see an opening up of these closed systems to allow them all to communicate with each other better and put the power in the hands of the consumer but the problem is the differing levels of the security, the desire for these businesses to make higher and higher profits, and the fact that every company has different programming languages.

Watch this space.