Personal health records and tech giants

October 7, 2020

Big tech is coming for your health data, everybody knows it. Facebook wants your doctor appointments, Apple is monitoring your vital signals, Amazon wants to disrupt primary care and Google it's struggling to find its way, but there is a single piece of data that can unify all these aspirations: the Personal Health Record. 

Depending on the country you live in, the PHR may be regulated differently, but the basic concept is: a user-managed digital account unifying all health records from a single person, even if the information is provided by different health institutions. It may look like a website portal, an app, or a microserver where you can upload and manage all kinds of personal data. If it is secure, regulated, manageable, online, and can be updated by healthcare providers, it’s a PHR.


Apple’s initiatives are all about turning devices into services. By using the Apple Watch and the iPhone as permanent health monitoring devices, the company suggested the next gadgets might be able to monitor blood pressure, headaches, and body fat. By having health information all stored in a PHR, research institutions could quickly recruit targeted study participants. Expect Apple partnerships with major prime healthcare providers and research centers. Part of this strategy is already happening here.


Amazon’s strategy is so extensive that is difficult to keep track of. While the voice assistant Alexa is being tested for different kinds of health monitoring, the company owns, together with JP Morgan, a healthcare provider called Haven. There have been reports about Prime members receiving marketing from an online pharmacy service bought by amazon in 2018, the company also launched a product called Amazon Transcribe Medical, to help voice physicians with voice transcriptions.


Facebook’s first trial on health technology was a project named Building 8, and it had the goal of creating an integration between user’s daily habits and available data and health records. This initiative was closed after the Cambridge Analytica scandal when the company had to face several public inquiries about its data practices.
Right now, the main public initiative of the platform is broadly reminding users about check-ups, flu-shots, and cancer screenings, the app is called Preventive health and its be a long term investment in becoming the go-to application for quick and easy doctor appointments, giving Facebook control over one more aspect of our daily routine.


The tech giant started its investments in the area with the Google Health platform, closed in 2012 after it failed to scale. The initiative restarted in 2015, with lots of different goals: A company called Calico was created to combat ageing, and Verily for research life-sciences, then reunited the companies in 2018 and renamed it, again, Google Health. Right now the company is supposed to help doctors with medical records but it’s reported to be in an identity crisis, with no big vision for the future of healthcare.

"Big tech is coming for your health data"

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