Google Unveils New Cloud Service for Health Care


The search giant is stepping back into the medical data arena with a system to manage patient information.

Google has been rather silent during the past few years in terms of its health care initiatives, until now.

Now I do not mean the Verily division, formerly Google Life Science, division that has been spearheading a lot of health care initiatives, such as CGM or eye sensor, but Google itself.

Previously, there was Google Health, which was supposed to be a personal health record service where patients could upload their information. Unfortunately, the service was only around from 2008 until 2012. The service initially had a pilot at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008, where it seemed to have some luck, but interest then died off. It was a good move but too early for uptake by most consumers. Accenture, a company that does a lot of surveys in the digital health sphere, demonstrated that even several years ago a lot of people were not keen on the idea, but now they are ready to go mobile with their health information.

But on March 5, Google said that it is getting back into the health data arena with Google Cloud Healthcare API, which is aimed at the interoperability conundrum that health care faces. For those who are not familiar with the concept, it essentially boils down to the fact that there are so many systems and platforms out there, with multiple parts of patient data (think hospital electronic health records (EHRs) and a primary care office using 2 different systems) that cannot "talk" to one other or share data. In Google's statement, it said that it is aiming to "... organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Applying this mission to health care means using open standards to help enable data sharing and interactive collaboration, while also providing a secure platform. Just imagine if all health care providers could easily, securely, and instantaneously collaborate while caring for you. Ultimately, we hope that better flow of data will inspire discoveries with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), leading to insights that improve patient outcomes."

So, what does this all entail? Well, for starters, data storage is key. Google is positing that the future of patient data will be on cloud storage services. Basically, everyone can have access to data anytime and anywhere. Next, is how to use these data. This is where the developing fields of AI and ML come into play. Is it possible for data to be screened for items that may have been missed in clinical care or to identify patterns for patient outcomes or future research? Ultimately, it is a matter of finding the limits of this technology that is the unknown. Finally, access to EHR expansion is probably the biggest point of this move from Google, which I really can get behind.

Google is not the only company interested in getting patient health data. Microsoft has its HealthVault, which has had a slow start, most likely due to its lack of hardware and the fact that it is more of a software company. By comparison, Apple is pushing to have its smartphones enabled for users to sync their devices with their EHRs, especially Epic, and get access to all their health reports.

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