Health-tech startups will need to watch their backs as the threat of new and aggressive competition looms. Health-tech is a diverse market with numerous opportunities for Big Tech

During 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic has raged, the evolving theme of patient-centered technology in healthcare has accelerated.

Big Tech has always been a benefactor of health-tech startups, and now Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple in particular are making their own forays into the market as leading players.

Telemedicine has been the most prominent driver of the health-tech theme in 2020, due to its particular importance during the Covid-19 pandemic, but less-obvious areas have also opened up.

Healthcare chatbots, AI-driven diagnostics tools and videoconferencing apps for remote appointments are all in high demand in both the private and public healthcare spheres.

Big Tech has excelled in meeting demand

With the urgent need for patient-centered, digital healthcare solutions delivered on a population-wide scale, tech giants have come into their own, particularly through government contracts.

Google and Apple, for example, formed an unprecedented partnership to develop a Covid-19 track-and-trace app during the early stages of the pandemic’s spread in the US.

Amazon is delivering test-kits for the NHS, and signed a deal to distribute NHS Choices advice through its Alexa device. Its first health-monitoring wearable, Halo, launched in early September 2020.

Tech companies have also muscled in on communication and collaboration platforms, previously a strong market for startups like Dropbox and Zoom.

Big Tech’s free trials of videoconferencing and file-sharing applications for healthcare workers have forced startups to do the same, and have also proved to be effective marketing tools.

The NHS, for example, received free-trial use of Microsoft’s Teams platform in Q1 2020. Microsoft has since signed the NHS onto its Office 365 suite, including Teams, until 2023.

Health-tech startups risk being left behind

The health-tech theme has previously been driven in no small part by startups, especially in the highly privatized and massively profitable healthcare system in the US.

Babylon Health is one the world’s most successful health-tech startups, thriving in less-developed overseas healthcare markets, but could soon face competition from Big Tech.

Babylon’s first African subsidiary Babyl Rwanda signed a 10-year contract with the Rwandan government in March 2020, offering its chatbot for free to every citizen over the age of 12.

Localization of the chatbot in new languages is key here. Babylon’s remains unmatched by Big Tech, but Google and Amazon could soon compete with more advanced AI language technology.

Zipline is another successful startup which inked its first big contract in Rwanda’s rapidly-growing healthcare market.

Since coming to prominence in Rwanda, Zipline’s drone delivery service for medical supplies has taken on the US, where it will face intense competition from Amazon in the coming years.

Amazon’s test kit delivery service is founded on its pre-existing logistics network and powerful data-processing capabilities, and Zipline’s gradual push out into the American market could be scuppered when the company begins to diversify outside of Covid-19 test kits.