Are you scared of Google yet?

Google is in the middle of a healthcare data grab. Details of its project to handle the data of 50m Americans through hospital group and insurer Ascension were revealed this week, just a couple of weeks after it announced the $2.1bn acquisition of Fitbit – a deal that is essentially also about data. The tech giant is just about reaching a point where its datasets are comprehensive enough to inflict real damage on the service sector.

Its presence in healthcare services so far has been like a slowly rising tide: flowing slowly into our frame of vision. We know that it’s coming in but we still think that we have time left to enjoy the beach.

Fitbit tracks data from very specific points in peoples’ lives: how many hours they sleep, how many miles they run, how many steps they take each day. While that could allow for the creation of specific products and targeted advertising, it’s unlikely to form useful indicators that help with diagnosis and therapy. It does little to track how people move through healthcare systems and payment models.

“Google is an expert at using AI to make accurate predictions in the arena of online searches for consumers and if they can apply that knowledge to health and wellness it could be a powerful tool in monitoring and prevention – we are heading towards the realm of the Star Trek Tricorder,” the CEO of Verita Healthcare, Julian Andriesz, tells HBI.

Researchers in Germany will soon be able to access anonymised billing data from 90% of its population collected by the statutory insurers – a move that experts say will help Europe develop AI algorithms – after the country passed the Digital Supply Law last week. That’s likely a more comprehensive and larger data set than the individual pieces of information that Google has access to. But Google’s ability to attract talent and its vast resources mean that its researchers will likely to be able to discover a lot more.

“The market entry of the big tech platforms like Google or Amazon has a huge future impact on how the service sector will operate in the future,” says the founder of German telehealth company Dieter Zocholl.

Amazon has long been in the hospital market. Two thirds of the largest German hospitals shop with Amazon. The overarching strategy from all platform/tech giants is obvious: controlling the entire patient value chain. Amazon is the furthest away.

“Amazon Care identifies the patient’s needs at a very early stage. The patient is then taken to a doctor/hospital and Amazon is of course paid a brokerage for this service. Amazon procures the medical goods needed for treatment directly from the medical industry.

“It will prove through data analysis that it will provide the best medical quality, targeted for the right patient at the best price. Due to cost pressure, finally the social security will support that. Doctors, physicians, hospitals, rehab centre and the med/non med industry etc. will in future be degraded to the role of suppliers. They will then each be allowed to submit an offer to Amazon. The cheapest will then be awarded the contract.

“You can also transfer this example to Google/Fitbit. This is nothing else than the Uber,  or Fintech principle applied to health care. Software will rule the healthcare world in the future – everything else will be purchased by the service providers.”

Google is constantly working to become a bigger presence not only in our homes but also in our supply chains. The data it owns and its brand presence in our lives is already much greater than that of many operators. It increasingly has the power to direct patients away from external healthcare facilities and towards any that it might build itself – whether these be physical or digital. Heck, Google might even be able to give a better quality of care if it properly utilises the data that it has access to.

The tide is sweeping away patients and traditional operators will have to paddle hard to keep up.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Rachel Lewis or call 0207 183 3779.