How Google Is Helping Make Advances In Medical Technology

daizuoxin for Getty imagesdaizuoxin for Getty images

Over the years, medical science has seen tremendous advancements. However, there is always scope for improvement and this time around, doctors and nurses have access to devices, apps and platforms powered with advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Cloud, Machine Learning—to enhance their capabilities in many ways. Here’s a look at how technology giant, Alphabet, Inc. (GOOG, GOOGL) efforts in the health and wellness space.

The trillion-dollar healthcare market and its challenges show that there is immense capacity for advanced technologies to be leveraged. The U.S. health spending which is presently around $3.67 trillion, based on the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is estimated to touch $5.69 trillion by 2026. Deloitte estimates that the global health care spending is projected to increase at an annual rate of 4.1% in 2017-2021, up from just 1.3% in 2012-2016. The major factors behind this rise are the increasing population of the elderly, developing market expansion, advances in medical treatments, and rising labor costs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) database reveals that over 45% of its member states report to have less than 1 physician per 1,000 population. While a study shows that primary care physicians spend more than one-half of their workday, interacting with the EHR during and after clinic hours. This further squeezes the time for face-to-face patient interaction.

On the other hand, the fast-rising older population highlights the need of better medical infrastructure and a greater number of doctors and other healthcare workers. According to the United Nations, 13% of the global population was aged 60 or over in the world in 2017. The number of people aged 60 years or over—is expected to more than double by 2050.

Here are some of the projects and initiatives within the healthcare space by Alphabet and its subsidiaries. “Healthcare is increasingly moving to the cloud, and the adoption of machine learning will allow the industry to unlock insights that can lead to significant clinical improvements for patients”, wrote Gregory J. Moore MD, PhD, Vice President of Healthcare, Google Cloud.

To address interoperability challenges in healthcare data, Google launched a new version of its Cloud Healthcare API which provides a robust, scalable infrastructure solution to manage key healthcare data types (including HL7, FHIR and DICOM). While Google’s Apigee Health APIx makes it easy for developers and healthcare enterprises to build new FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) API-based services on top of their existing health record systems in a secure, compliant manner.

To ensure ease in operations for its customers, Google offers Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance for its G Suite and Cloud offerings. “Under HIPAA, certain information about a person’s health or health care services is classified as Protected Health Information (PHI).”

To reduce the time and effort going into data-entry into EHRs, and facilitate more time to doctors for patient interaction, Google is working on tools such as specialized speech recognition for medical transcription to create AI-enabled ‘note-writing models’ that can assist doctors in adding patient notes.

Google Fit, a health tracker app for everyday use. Google has been engaging with the WHO and the American Heart Association (AHA) to understand simple yet effective ways to stay active and healthy. “Move Minutes and Heart Points” are two of its focus areas.

Back in 2014, Calico (earlier known as Google Life Sciences) and AbbVie (ABBV) joined hands to focus on new therapies for patients with age-related diseases such as neuro-degeneration and cancer. In January this year, the companies announced the extension of their collaboration for another three years. The $1.5 billion initial budget will be funded with another $500 million.

In April 2018, Verily (a subsidiary of Alphabet) and Gilead Sciences, Inc. (GILD) partnered to identify and  understand the immunological and molecular drivers resulting in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and lupus-related diseases. Earlier in December 2017, DeepVariant—a technology that uses deep neutral network to reconstruct the true genome sequence from HTS sequencer data, was released by Verily and Google Brain.

In August this year, DeepMind (acquired in 2014) and Moorfields Eye Hospital announced results of their partnership to explore use of AI technology to clinicians. The result describes how machine learning is applied to identify signs of eye disease using scans; “The AI system can recommend the correct referral decision for over 50 eye diseases with 94% accuracy, matching world-leading eye experts.”

In another project, deep learning is being applied to achieve clinically applicable segmentation of head and neck anatomy for radiotherapy. Further, DeepMind is working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to work on deaths resulting from deterioration in health of hospitalized patients.

DeepMind’s app Streams is already in use at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. The app sends immediate alerts to clinicians and directs them to patients who are showing signs of a serious condition called Acute Kidney Injury (AKI). DeepMind’s health team will be joining the newly formed division—Google Health led by Dr. David Feinberg.

Alphabet leads the count with 186 healthcare related patents between 2013-2017 as per a E&Y report. With years of research, investments, current projects and now the newly structured health division, Google is among the leading technology players which is set to establish new revenue streams while unlocking the potential of these cutting-edge technologies for the healthcare industry.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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