Health and Beauty

Google is again to full healthcare

Alphabet’s Google is “still in good health,” according to its chief health officer, despite the failure of a recent attempt at a formalized business unit for the health sector.

The tech giant founded Google Health in 2018 and at times grew to 500 employees, but disbanded the unit in August. The division was set up to lead the tech company’s health strategy, but Google has faced backlash over the past few years on the interface between Google, AI, and health data.

Former Google health chief David Feinberg left his post shortly after the unit was disbanded to become CEO of health IT provider Cerner. The rest of the health team has been transferred to other parts of Google to follow up on the organization’s health plans.

“The real pressure is, ‘Will this really help millions of people?'” Feinberg replied at a conference in June when asked about the need to generate income. “Is it google scale? That’s the pressure.”

Potential deals between Google and companies in healthcare IT services are raising concerns about healthcare privacy.

Karen DeSalvo, Google’s chief health officer, said Tuesday in an interview with CNBC’s Bertha Coombs on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that although the technology company has been disbanded as a whole, “health in everything we do interweave ”wants.

In Google’s new strategy, DeSalvo will continue to focus on the three areas it believes it can make a difference to users and their communities: through its search capabilities, access to cloud tools for caregivers, and the provision of Community context on social determinants of health, “which drives health nearly 80%.”

It has partnered with health associations such as the Mayo Clinic, Ascension, and HCA. DeSalvo said that through the use of data, AI and the cloud, Google is “looking to expand the ways we can get to the table”. The Ascension deal has been scrutinized by lawmakers, data protection officers, and even some Ascension employees, but the companies remain in a partnership for both Google Cloud and Care Studio.

Google’s $ 2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit has been scrutinized over privacy concerns about personal information. The deal was being investigated by the US Department of Justice because the tech giant had access to private data through Fitbit. In response, Google said the takeover was about Fitbit’s hardware, not access to users’ health records. Among other things, Google has made a commitment not to use customer health and wellness data for ad tracking.

Fitbit Sense smartwatch on man’s arm showing EKG heart health function, San Ramon, Calif., October 8, 2020. (Photo by Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images)

Smith / Gado Collection | Stock photos | Getty Images

DeSalvo, who was national health information technology coordinator and assistant health secretary (acting) in the Obama administration prior to joining Google, said Google is using its AI technology in partnerships with organizations like the Mayo Clinic to better treat and diagnose cancer and reach patients through social platforms like YouTube.

IBM has long sought to make its AI Watson a major player in healthcare, and now other large tech companies, especially those with consumer exposure, are increasingly interested in healthcare applications.

Apple has endeavored to expand into the health sector through features and tracking within the iPhone and Apple Watch, as well as its expanded Health app, which stores health data of users that can be shared with others. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that the tech giant was interested in primary health care with Apple-employed doctors in its own clinics, although the company has not commented on plans. As early as 2018, CNBC reported on efforts to offer its employees a basic service.

This summer, Amazon rolled out its telehealth service, known as Amazon Care, for employees in all 50 states, while also launching its own online pharmacy. Amazon has increasingly focused on the wellbeing of its own employees, scrutinizing workers’ health and serving as a test bed for its broader healthcare ambitions. Last month it also launched a new health tracker called Halo View, which competes with Google’s FitBit and Apple Watch and will be available for $ 79.99.

Microsoft acquired voice recognition company Nuance Communications in April for $ 16 billion to expand its healthcare cloud products – the company sells tools for recognizing and transcribing speech for doctor visits, customer service calls, and voicemails.

Advances in technology can provide improvements in healthcare and the health system, and technology companies like Google and Apple will continue to move forward. Big data companies in hot Silicon Valley like Palantir are also hunting for ways to monetize health information – it hired a former head of IBM Watson Health this year. But regulations governing the rights of technology companies to user data and information can make it difficult for technology to disrupt the healthcare system.

“Users have a right to their data, and it is important that people know that technology makes it possible [that right]“Said DeSalvo. ” [And] We need to make sure that the healthcare sector respects and understands that we should share this data with consumers so they can have more control over their health. “

Correction: The Wall Street Journal reported in June that Apple was interested in providing primary health care with Apple-employed doctors in its own clinics, but the company has not made any plans. Google and Ascension remain a partnership for Google Cloud and Care Studio.

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