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Amazon May Be the Next Tech Giant Muscling Into Health Care

Because what else is there left for the company to try, really?
Jeff Bezos

At this point, there’s very little that Amazon isn’t involved in, or at least exploring: personal AI assistants, cloud services, TV shows, furniture, groceries … hell, it even finds time to sell the occasional book. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that the e-commerce leviathan is reported to be sniffing around the health-care sector, too.

CNBC says that the company has set up a team called, cryptically, 1492 that is researching hardware and software projects relating to health care. High on the list of the topics it’s investigating, says the report, are digital medical records, online doctor appointments, and health-related services for its own hardware, including its Echo smart speakers.

It’s not particularly surprising that it wants to muscle in on the industry, which is ripe for innovation, given that other tech giants have already made similar intentions clear. Google makes no secret of the fact that it wants to shake up the sector, with its spinout Verily Life Sciences building health-tracking hardware and launching large-scale medical studies. Apple, too, has been trying to get folks to use its hardware to track health-related data, and behind-the-scenes discussions with the FDA hint that it has grander plans to come.

None of the ideas being explored by Amazon are particularly revolutionary, either. Online consultations with doctors already happen, provided in the U.K. by companies like Dr Thom, and more complex versions, for say, physical therapy, have been tested. DeepMind, meanwhile, is currently building out a blockchain-inspired system to securely manage digital health records in London hospitals. And projects by Apple and Google are already trying to use existing or available hardware for health purposes.

Even so, no tech firm has so far managed to disrupt health care, and the industry remains fit for technological upheaval. It’s worth remembering that Amazon has a key advantage over other firms, with its sophisticated retail and distribution network—indeed, earlier this year, CNBC also reported that Amazon was contemplating a move into selling pharmaceuticals. It may hope to offer a more comprehensive service than Apple or Google could right now.

(Read more: CNBC, “FDA E-mails Reveal Apple’s Long Game for Health Tech,” “Google’s Verily Unveils a Health Watch for Research,” “Google’s Verily Unveils a Health Watch for Research,” “DeepMind’s New Blockchain-Style System Will Track Health-Care Records”)

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