Walmart, Microsoft cloud, AI pact has healthcare implications
- Walmart and Microsoft announced a five-year strategic partnership aimed at overhauling the retail experience using cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
- The companies will cooperate on the assessment, development and support phase of moving hundreds of existing applications to cloud native architectures. They also plan to create a global IoT platform to coordinate shipping and supply chain activities.
- The deal, while broader than just healthcare, comes as both companies are making inroads into the industry and facing growing competition from online retail giant Amazon.
Cloud computing in particular is big in health IT, with the global market expected to hit $35 billion by 2022. The supply chain aspect of the agreement could be taking aim at Amazon, which has been courting health systems to use Amazon Business as a marketplace for medical supplies.
The new partnership will open up opportunities to use AI and machine learning to enhance the consumer experience. That's an area another competitor, Google, has focused on. Google's DeepMind, life sciences arm Verily and spinoff Calico have made forays into various areas within healthcare.
The addition of AI and broad cloud capabilities could help Walmart accelerate its move into healthcare. The company already operates pharmacies, and in May signed a deal to offer Sharecare’s personalized wellness platform to commercial customers beginning next year. On Monday, Walmart tapped Sean Slovenski, former vice president of innovation at Humana, to head its health and wellness unit.
Walmart also is working with Emory Healthcare to improve quality care and lower healthcare costs in the Atlanta area. The joint effort includes a new accountable care organization, Emory Accountable Care Plan, that will service Walmart associates in the area. In addition, Walmart named Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital and Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center as national Centers of Excellence for Walmart associates requiring spinal surgery and joint replacements.
And the company is reportedly in early talks to acquire Humana. The move comes on the heals of other pending mega-mergers, including CVS Health’s proposed $69 billion acquisition of Aetna and Cigna’s $67 billion grab for Express Scripts.
Microsoft has also been upping its stake in healthcare, announcing last month the formation of a formal unit to advance AI and cloud-based healthcare tools.
The tech giant already has a number of projects underway, including a partnership with Twist BioScience to explore the capabilities of DNA digital data storage and an effort with UPMC to create AI-enabled care delivery products. Another initiative with Cigna aims to leverage Microsoft’s HoloLens technology for interactive game-based health screenings.
For its part, Amazon is forming a company with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to tackle the issue of rising healthcare costs of their employees.