The health-tech race has been intensifying recently. A string of announcements have revealed how the tech giants are escalating their efforts to muscle in on this burgeoning market, which is expected to reach $509.2bn by 2025, according to Grand View Research.
In the past couple of months alone, Google has acquired FitBit and details have emerged about its controversial deal with healthcare provider Ascension, which gives Google access to millions of medical records across the US. Meanwhile, Amazon has acquired symptom-checking platform Health Navigator and announced its Amazon Pharmacy offer, while at the same time Apple has announced its first opt-in health research app to collect valuable medical data from its users.
But this surge in activity comes at a time when trust in technology companies is, at best, wavering. It is a rapidly developing situation and the launch of a huge federal ‘antitrust investigation’ into Google’s Ascension deal is only intensifying the debate.
The extent to which these big technology brands can progress in healthcare will depend on how much consumers, healthcare practitioners and regulators feel they can trust those brands to access, use and store people’s most personal data.
There’s a delicate balancing act at play here. On the one hand, personal data is a consumer's most valuable asset. It requires a significant amount of trust and transparency for people to volunteer it willingly, as well as a clear understanding of what they’re going to get back in return.
On the other hand, these brands can potentially make a considerable positive impact on our health and everyday lives. If they can demonstrate the genuine and tangible benefits their emerging health-tech offers can bring, we could see a relaxation and reconfiguration of what data people are willing to offer up.
The added complexity here is that not everybody cares about their data equally, or in the same ways. Certain things matter to certain people more than others, and some people will give things away more freely than others. This critical value exchange – what consumers choose to keep, what they choose to give away, who they choose to give it to, and what they expect to get back in return – is going to define the next stage of how the tech giants fare in the health-tech arena.
While the decision for tech brands to enter healthcare is no doubt a commercial one (the global healthcare market, of which health-tech is a rapidly growing segment, is projected by Deloitte to reach $10.059tn by 2022), it also has other strategic advantages.
In our last FutureBrand Index, we saw the perception of tech companies wane and the perception of healthcare brands gain new ground. Launching healthcare products and services could allow tech brands to regain some of the ground they’ve lost by reaching beyond their category, distancing themselves from some negative associations by focusing on how their platforms can enable consumers to better manage their health.
That said, the ongoing question of trust in tech companies also offers a potential opportunity for existing healthcare brands and health-tech start-ups to win market share. While these companies do not have the mass appeal or global brand awareness of technology brands, they are able to position themselves as trusted experts in their field, in contrast with the tech giants.
Another attraction to these potential challengers, such as health-tech brands AskMD and CarePassport, is that they offer people more control over managing their health by checking symptoms, finding practitioners and aggregating health data all in one place, annexed away from data-hungry tech giants.
Also, as we’ve seen in the financial services category, the health-tech outsiders that can ‘do a Monzo’ – i.e. find a specific niche to own and then deliver a focused, seamless experience – stand the greatest chance of success here.
If trust in technology brands continues to fall, we might well see a surge in growth of smaller challenger health-tech brands that address a very specific part of a consumer’s healthcare journey, cementing a relationship based on only knowing one thing about them very deeply, rather than needing to know absolutely everything.
Apps such as Glucose Buddy and Healthy Heart 2 are already popular with diabetics and people at risk of heart disease and are perfectly placed to develop, and sustain, meaningful relationships with consumers based on knowing a lot about a little.
This may prove the most futureproof way for brands to consistently deliver an experience that lives up to their purpose – the key to building trust in brands. For those brands that successfully do that, the health-tech opportunity is all to play for. This is a high stakes game.
James Withey is head of strategy at FutureBrand