Google Focuses In on Healthcare Data, Emerging Technology

The tech giant has tapped partners and investments in machine learning, cloud and more in order to advance clinical capabilities.

Google and its parent company Alphabet are known for being on the bleeding edge of consumer technology. However, the tech giant has hit the ground running with health technology as well.

Within the last year, Google has focused in on investments and acquisitions across the healthcare spectrum and has expanded its current product offerings to push the envelope of emerging tech in healthcare. Notably, in early November, Alphabet’s smart city arm, Sidewalk Labs, spun out a new health unit that aims to use tech to bridge the public health gap, called Cityblock.

And in the first few days of 2018 alone, Google made several strategic investments into fledgling health IT companies, including precision medicine startup DNAnexus and mental health specialist Quartet, which calls on machine learning in combination with specialists to recognize patients with unidentified mental health conditions and connect them with care.

Google has focused in particular on data’s role in healthcare, which is offering providers new ways to boost patient care and provider experience with each passing day. And the company isn’t alone. A recent article in The New York Times highlighted how companies such as Apple, Microsoft and IBM also are getting in on the health IT game.

“The big-picture reason that a lot of these tech companies are getting into healthcare now is because the market is too big, too important and much too personal to their users for them to ignore,” John Prendergass, associate director of healthcare investment at Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, told the Times.

So where has Google been focusing its efforts lately? In addition to investments in startups that capitalize on health data, the company has expanded its partnerships and collaborations around machine learning, artificial intelligence, analytics and the healthcare cloud.

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Google Expands Machine Learning Partnerships

In early 2017, Google struck several partnerships with hospitals to delve into machine learning and how it can help to simplify and make more actionable use of healthcare data.

"Machine learning is mature enough to start accurately predicting medical events — such as whether patients will be hospitalized, how long they will stay and whether their health is deteriorating despite treatment for conditions such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia or heart failure," said Google Brain team researcher Katherine Chou in a blog post.

The tech giant had already been working with Alphabet’s life sciences arm, Verily, to figure out ways that previous machine learning research on breast cancer and retinopathy could be translated into actual devices. The partnerships with three large, cutting-edge healthcare organizationsStanford Medicine, University of California, San Francisco and University of Chicago Medicine — would help to figure out ways that machine learning could go to work in hospitals to prevent infections and medication errors, and cut back on readmission rates, according to Healthcare IT News.

"Advanced machine learning can discover patterns in de-identified medical records to predict what is likely to happen next, and thus, anticipate the needs of the patients before they arise,” Chou added.

The Healthcare Cloud Expands Medical Imaging Possibilities

In November, Google also announced collaborations with several health IT vendors that would offer clinicians more flexible access to medical images and increase interoperability for clinicians using Google Cloud.

“Next to genomics, medical images are one of the fastest growing data sources in the healthcare space,” Gregory J. Moore, vice president of healthcare, Google Cloud, said in a blog post. For this reason, the provider has partnered with companies such as Change Healthcare, a provider of enterprise imaging solutions, with the aim to introduce innovative technologies and solutions to Google Cloud.

“By combining Change Healthcare’s clinical expertise and industry knowledge with our strengths in the areas of cloud infrastructure, advanced analytics and collaboration tools, we aim to meaningfully impact outcomes for patients and care providers,” said Moore. He added that Change Healthcare is using the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) to offer a “more relevant, pervasive, scalable and cost-effective data infrastructure,” and is also making use of G Suite “to develop new collaborative solutions for imaging specialists.”

Google has also partnered with several companies, including Ambra Health, lifeIMAGE and Nautilus Medical, in order to make medical image sharing more clinician and workflow friendly.

“In a world with 400 petabytes of imaging data produced annually, we plan to leverage Google Cloud’s global footprint to help our customers in a highly regulated and life-critical space to perform at scale and manage IT risk effectively,” Matthew A. Michela, CEO of lifeIMAGE, said in the blog post.

Meanwhile, other Google partners are training neural networks to better identify radiology scans and inform clinical decision-making, expand precision medicine through machine learning application programming interfaces and make use of radiology images stored on-premises or in the cloud.

“We’re working with the research community, clinical community and the diagnostic imaging industry to help care providers be more accurate and effective in order to improve patient outcomes,” said Moore in the blog post. “And we’ve been excited to see our customers and technology partners use Google Cloud services and tools to uncover powerful insights that may help drive better patient care and facilitate better collaboration among care providers.”

NicolasMcComber/Getty Images
Jan 17 2018