Health IT

Here’s how Google is leveraging AI for its healthcare endeavors

The tech giant is applying its AI expertise to the medical space. But that’s not all — Google has also shown interest in other healthcare topics like interoperability and insurance.

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As tech industry giants like Apple are making moves in the medical space, Google does not want to be left out. A new analysis from research firm CB Insights outlines how the Mountain View, California company is leveraging its artificial intelligence know-how to tackle healthcare.

Google restructured into Alphabet in 2015. Under the Alphabet umbrella, three subsidiaries focus on health:

  • Verily, which is leveraging analytics tools, research and interventions, largely works on partnering with existing healthcare organizations.
  • DeepMind‘s emphasis is on artificial intelligence research.
  • Calico prioritizes aging and age-related diseases.

Additionally, the company has invested in healthcare through GV, its venture arm.

Through its various divisions, Google is making use of AI to confront different diseases. Its three-pronged approach involves data generation, using AI for disease detection and disease/lifestyle management.

More specifically, Verily has teamed up with Nikon subsidiary Optos to work on detecting diabetic retinopathy. Google is also combatting diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Looking ahead, it wants to zero in on additional disease states like COPD, cancer and behavioral health.

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The company is also exploring the significance of AI tools for physicians. It teamed up with Johnson & Johnson to make Verb Surgical, a company that claims to be building a surgery platform that ties together robotics, data analytics, visualization and more.

On the consumer side, the use of artificial intelligence through products like Google Home could present an opportunity for Google to explore patient-facing health assessments.

Though it is addressing healthcare through machine learning techniques, the California organization appears to be looking at health insurance as well. A job posting on the Verily website advertises an opening for a health plan executive.

According to the report, Google also wants to dip its toes in the interoperability realm. To that end, it acquired Apigee, which partially works to build healthcare APIs using FHIR, in 2016. It is pushing its Google Cloud platform and its G Suite for healthcare businesses. Finally, Google is developing its own datasets that others could use to integrate into their own research. One example is Verily’s Project Baseline Study, which is working to create a dataset from 10,000 voluntary participants who track their health activities.

“In short, Google seems to be going after the healthcare space from every possible angle,” the CB Insights analysis notes.

But can the tech giant actually accomplish everything it has set out to do? The answer is iffy.

Its previous attempts at taking on healthcare have failed. Google Health, the company’s personal health record, and Google Flu Trends, which used searches to project how many people had contracted the flu, were shut down. Additionally, the analysis doubts that Google’s “spray-and-pray approach” to implementing AI will work better than narrowing in on a few application areas.

But perhaps the company’s technique will work in its favor. As the analysis concludes:

Google is working on so many initiatives focused on so many different facets of healthcare across so many areas of the company that the chances of failure are high. But so is potential for success.

Ultimately, if Google can find effective solutions for any one of the many issues it’s tackling, there’s a potential to apply lessons and succesful approaches elsewhere, and create a new data- and AI-driven healthcare paradigm.

Photo: John Lund, Getty Images