We just got our first look at what Google’s grand plans are for healthcare after it brought in a top doctor to lead its health team
Category : entrepreneur
- Google is finally starting to talk about its health strategy.
- Over the past year, Google has gotten deeper into healthcare, hiring Dr. David Feinberg to head up the Google Health division.
- On Friday, Google acquired Fitbit. The brand, best known for its fitness watches, also has a big business selling a health platform that combines coaching and fitness tracking to employers and health plans.
- In a presentation Monday at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas, Feinberg laid out his goal for the Google Health team.
- Since hiring Feinberg, Google has made other big hires and organizational changes to lead its health ambitions.
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It’s been almost a year since Google tapped the former head of a health system to lead its Google Health business.
In January, Dr. David Feinberg, the former CEO of Geisinger Health System, made the switch from the hospital world to the tech world. Since then, the team has been relatively quiet about its ambitions.
Feinberg used his speech Monday at a conference in Las Vegas as a coming-out for the new health team. He laid out his vision for healthcare at Google and how it connects to the search-engine giant’s broader goals.
“Overall, at Google, our mission is to organize the world’s information, or I would say, the world’s health information, and make it broadly accessible and useful,” he said.
Tech powerhouses like Google, Amazon and Microsoft are increasingly focused on expanding in the $3.5 trillion US healthcare market. They’ve pursued strategies like selling software and computing services, offering hardware, and even shown some signs that they’ll get into the business of providing healthcare.
Feinberg’s team is responsible for coordinating health initiatives across Google, ranging from the company’s search engine and map products, to its Android smartphone operating system, to more futuristic offerings in areas like artificial intelligence.
In his speech at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas, Feinberg said that one of his first main goals for the team will be to oversee how health-related searches come up, and work to improve that with the Google Search team.
“What we want to do here, and this is together with all of you, is to make this information more authoritative,” Feinberg said. “We want to make sure that if you’re asking questions about lupus, that it’s the most up-to-date information, in a way that understandable and we need help to make sure we can achieve that.”
Google’s parent company Alphabet has a lot of healthcare bets
Google Health is just one aspect of parent company Alphabet’s healthcare strategy. Within Google, Google Cloud is working to ink cloud contracts with healthcare systems. Mayo Clinic in September signed Google as its cloud and AI partner.
There’s also Verily, the life sciences arm of Alphabet, as well as Calico, its life-extension spinoff. Verily has its hands in projects spanning robotics to blood-sugar-tracking devices to work on addiction treatment. The company has also made investments in healthcare through its venture funds GV and Capital G as well as through Alphabet itself.
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On Friday, Google reached a $2.1 billion deal to acquire Fitbit. The brand, best known for its fitness watches, also has a big business selling a health platform that combines coaching and fitness tracking to employers and health plans.
Beyond working with existing products, Feinberg’s oversight includes the health team at Google AI, hardware components, and DeepMind Health. Both Google AI and DeepMind have pursued projects that analyze medical images like eye scans and scans of breast cancer cells, with the hope of aiding medical professionals in diagnosing and treating patients.
Feinberg said part of his ambitions at Google are to improve on these efforts and use them to help doctors and nurses do a better job of caring for patients.
Google Health’s newest hires
Google Health also hired the former Obama administration health official Dr. Karen DeSalvo as its chief health officer and recently converted former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf’s role to span medical strategy and policy for Google and parent company Alphabet’s life sciences arm Verily. The two will support Feinberg in the projects Google Health is focused on.
Before coming to Google, Feinberg had been at Geisinger, a health system in Pennsylvania that provides health insurance as well as care through its medical centers, since 2015. Prior to that, he served as CEO of UCLA’s health system.
Read more: A health system hidden in the heart of Pennsylvania thinks it’s cracked the code on caring for seniors. And it could be the future of healthcare.
Feinberg said he had two questions he needed answered before he’d make the jump into the tech world: Is Google serious about health? And can Google have an impact on health?
When he felt certain the answers were “yes,” he made the switch.
Feinberg explained in his talk that he even went further than that, asking for the people turning to Google and YouTube for health information, “Will you allow those people to be treated like they’re my own patients?”
Improving the credentials of Dr. Google
Google’s answer was yes, he said.
“Nine months into it, I’m actually certain that that is true and I feel very confident in my ability to say what we’re providing I would want for my own patients or for my own family.”
To be sure, finding reputable health information on the internet isn’t always easy — coining expressions like “Dr. Google,” when patients come into their doctor’s office asking for a procedure or treatment they read about online. Google has in the past worked with organizations like the Mayo Clinic and government organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve the information that show up on health-related searches.
Beyond working with Google Search to bring up more accurate information and building out Google and DeepMind’s AI in healthcare projects, the company will be finding ways to build similar tools for medical professionals, as well as finding better ways to care for patients, according to the company’s website.