Apple, Google and Amazon are sprinting to battle COVID-19. Here are lessons that can be learned

Amazon logo on the side of a building
Amazon has focused on protecting its essential workers while Amazon Web Services leverages voice skills technologies like Amazon Alexa for COVID-19 information. (Sundry Photography/Shutterstock)

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. tech giants have quickly brought their innovations to the front lines.

Amazon, Apple and Googlecompanies that were already making headway in the $3.5 billion U.S. healthcare markethave pivoted to focus on technologies and services to battle the novel coronavirus.

These companies are rolling out health information technology at a blistering pace, according to a report from Forrester Research.

These efforts do face challenges as a majority of healthcare workers report they still view these companies as outsiders and don’t trust their healthcare ambitions, Forrester reports, based on a healthcare benchmark survey it conducted with the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society.

Forrester Research senior analyst Jeff Becker looked at how the tech giants have shifted their innovation teams to focus on the health crisis and the lessons the healthcare industry can learn from these efforts. 

Apple

In the last few years, Apple has focused on building health apps, launched the Health Records app for consumers and is pushing deeper into research with health studies like the Apple Heart Study.

The company rolled out the Apple Watch equipped with an electrocardiogram and developed three "kits" to help developers build health-related apps for the iPhone and Apple Watch. 

RELATED: Amazon, Microsoft launch initiatives to accelerate COVID-19 research and testing

Apple is generating healthcare revenue by compelling health insurers to subsidize the cost of the Apple Watch for members, according to Forrester.

Beginning in March, Apple pivoted to focus on innovations for COVID-19 response. The company partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the White House to bring symptom-checking technology to voice, mobile and web.  

Apple also is partnering with Google to create a global contact-tracing infrastructure. They will build a Bluetooth-enabled contact-tracing application programming interface to help public health agencies contain the spread of COVID-19 once governments lift shelter-in-place orders.

This program faces uncertainty in the U.S., as cultural resistance to surveillance will limit consumer adoption, according to Becker.

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"Should the government pressure Apple and Google to make this program mandatory, or opt-out, the ambitious project could quickly turn into a public relations nightmare," Becker wrote.

On the enterprise front, Apple is leveraging its design and manufacturing acumen to address the global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). The company is now manufacturing face shields and reports that it will ship 1 million face masks per week, effective immediately. 

Google

Google focuses on differentiating its Google Cloud Platform through its best-in-class healthcare artificial intelligence research and the moonshot partnerships that its life sciences business, Verily, spearheads, according to Becker.

The company has hired several top healthcare leaders, including former Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, Geisinger CEO David Feinberg and former Department of Health and Human Services official Karen DeSalvo.

The tech giant has focused its COVID-19 response on providing communities with technology to help fight the virus outside of the hospital, such as hyperlocal analytics and drive-thru testing resources.

RELATED: Apple, Google team up on COVID-19 contact tracing via smartphone apps

Verily’s first COVID-19-related project was to develop software to run drive-thru COVID-19 diagnostic testing sites. Verily tested more than 3,700 Bay Area residents in its first two weeks of operation. 

The company is now offering this software platform to any health system free of charge

In response to requests from local public health leaders, Google has launched new dashboards that highlight mobility trends at the county level. Using anonymized Google Maps data, these reports measure how well communities are complying with shelter-in-place orders, according to Forrester.

The company also has optimized its Google Search to present local COVID-19 announcements and created a dedicated knowledge graph for COVID-19 that displays local government announcements and stories from reputable news outlets.

"While each of these solutions has its limitations, healthcare leaders should charge innovation and enterprise architecture teams with monitoring the solutions emerging from Google to fill technology holes in COVID-19 response strategies," Becker said.

Amazon

Prior to COVID-19, Amazon was taking a long view of healthcare revenue growth, working to build a new care delivery paradigm that carves costs out of the system for its employees, and eventually the general public.

In recent weeks, Amazon has been called out for a lack of employee health protections, resulting in strikes at its distribution centers. 

In response to these challenges, Amazon is in the process of implementing fever-screening technologies across all of its properties, including Amazon sites and Whole Foods Markets. Amazon is now issuing face masks to all employees—a strategy the company put in place weeks ago but was delayed due to global shortages of PPE, Becker wrote.

RELATED: Alphabet's Verily rolls out COVID screening tool for health systems

The tech giant also has focused on using its voice technologies to provide coronavirus-related information to consumers.

The company launched COVID-19-focused Alexa skills and a public symptom checker. Amazon has also created Alexa skills that teach users how to make face masks and how to disinfect surfaces.

Amazon Web Services created a data lake that aggregates disparate COVID-19 data points, including confirmed case counts, bed availability and 45,000 research articles on the virus, reviewed and annotated with Amazon’s Comprehend Medical natural language processing technology.

There are lessons to be learned from Amazon's work to bring technology and process innovation to day-to-day essential workers and delivering PPE to its workforce.

Healthcare leaders should charge innovation teams with "monitoring Amazon's ongoing efforts to inform internal recommendations on protecting workers now—and as the U.S. prepares to return to work," Becker said.

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