Healthcare is a complex industry, confounded by the intricately intertwined challenges, delights, and nuances that are unique to the sector. Tackling these challenges is certainly not for the faint of heart, especially in the modern era of changing regulatory demands, technological developments, and the evolving needs of patients and public health.
Google is one industry giant that was not founded as a healthcare company, but has since invested significant billions of dollars and resources into trying to improve healthcare conditions. Over the years, this ambition has been realized through many different initiatives, especially as the company’s leadership has boldly empowered multiple teams and divisions across the organization to support healthcare efforts.
This has given way to enriched and disruptive approaches to addressing some of the most pressing health care problems across multiple silos.
For example, Google’s Care Studio, which gives clinicians the ability to search for and organize patient-related information via a centralized platform, has been hailed as one of the most disruptive innovations for optimizing healthcare data. Accordingly, Google Cloud has taken steps of its own with regards to data management. Its Healthcare Data Engine powers the unification of data sets to enable interoperability and accessibility, meaning that organizations can now do more with their data than ever before. The technology also enables new capabilities such as insight into the social determinants of health and patient throughput analytics.
These are just a few examples of the many different products that Google is actively innovating on its way to becoming a powerhouse and impactful force in healthcare.
I had an enlightening conversation with Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Google’s Chief Health Officer. Dr. DeSalvo is an experienced physician and was previously the Assistant Secretary of Health in the US Department of Health and Human Services. He brings a sharp and deep perspective on how healthcare has evolved and what it takes to create a lasting impact on patients and society. He explained: “Google is a life company… not a health company. To have a high quality of life, health is very important. We want to help people, and we want to help companies meet consumers wherever they are and give them what they need. One of the company’s main goals is to help billions of people around the world become healthier in an equitable way… giving everyone the opportunity to have the highest quality of health.”
He discusses a three-pronged approach to how Google’s technology and work can improve healthcare, one that really focuses on meeting the needs of patients, providers, and the company as a whole. To truly create meaningful change in healthcare, resources and attention must be focused on these three silos, because they are intricately interconnected.
Some examples of this approach include:
- For consumers, tools like search and YouTube or Maps are invaluable for millions of people to ask health questions or connect with resources in the community. Partnerships with creators and trusted organizations (i.e., the American Academy of Pediatrics or the UK National Health Service) can help distribute accurate content and provide thought leadership. Additionally, hardware improvements (e.g., mobile sensors, etc.) along with robust software (e.g Health Connection) has empowered consumers to have new insights into their own healthcare metrics.
- For providers, there are significant opportunities to improve their workflows, empower them with more data, and create a seamless doctor-patient experience. Care Studio is one such example. Another is the development of actual clinical tools that can assist diagnostic processes such as the Automated Retinal Disease Assessment (ARDA)—which uses AI to help detect diabetic retinopathy.
- For enterprises, being able to organize data in more efficient ways and provide tools to derive insights from that data to create meaningful impact is critical (for example, earlier this year, the Mayo Clinic and Google Cloud announced a landmark partnership to use enterprise Gen. AI App Maker to develop Enterprise Search, which will empower healthcare organizations with a robust search ecosystem).
While generative AI is certainly the latest development that has taken the world by storm and has significant potential in healthcare, Dr. DeSalvo thoughtfully explains that the company’s goal is to “expand multiple paths at once—continually refining and enhancing core tools like traditional search, while also investing in leveraging and embracing new technologies like generative AI.” He also cautions against rushing this new technology— “as with any technology, there are some open questions—that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing work or pushing forward; it just means that we have to do it while keeping privacy, ethics, equity, and security at the forefront of design.”
This deep-rooted commitment to maintaining the highest standards of patient privacy and safety is clearly a top priority for Google, as Google continues to emphasize its commitment to responsible AI practices.
The subtle nature of driving innovation while carefully balancing security and privacy concerns is a growing phenomenon, especially as tech giants increasingly enter the healthcare space. For example, both Amazon and Microsoft have stepped up their healthcare offerings in the last decade. Earlier this year, Amazon made a very bold entry into care delivery by acquiring primary care provider One Medical. Microsoft’s commitment to healthcare is also increasing, from cloud technology offerings to hardware services. Indeed, technology and healthcare have never been closer. But this tight marriage requires thoughtful execution and constant revision to ensure development not only happens quickly, but is also carried out in an ethical manner.
Despite the amount of work that needs to be done, one thing is certain: companies like Google are engines of innovation, relentlessly committed to improving the customer experience and creating a lasting impact. Indeed, this commitment provides a promising future for generations to come.
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