Upon hearing the word ‘Google’ you could be forgiven for not immediately thinking of healthcare innovations like AI protein folding algorithms, contactless sleep sensors, or robotics-assisted surgery.
But according to Google’s Head of Innovation for Customer Engineering, Scott Thomson, the firm’s recent efforts in the healthcare space are so substantial that they can no longer be described as ‘tangential’.
Alongside its cloud offering, Google – through subsidiaries Google Cloud, Google X, GV, Calico and Verily – is on a quest to solve some of the healthcare sector’s toughest problems and, in doing so, extend the quality of human life for everyone.
“Life sciences and healthcare are a major priority for us at present,” said Mr. Thomson ahead of the Innovate Health Conference.
“I would like to think that we are no longer a search and cloud provider with a health arm. We’re heavily investing in technologies around biopharmaceuticals, medtech, medical diagnostics, and health plans – to name a few.
“We have a strong team of experts in the medical field that are looking at how to drive new patient experiences in the face of key mega-trends. Every day, we’re advancing new research and creating real-world applications to improve healthcare delivery.”
Broadly, Google’s healthcare pursuits fall under a ‘human-centric data model’, in which primary interventions are focussed on wellness.
“Within this model, we start with the healthy individual and look after their wellbeing,” said Thomson.
“When the need for a diagnosis or planning arises, we look at how soon we can get the signal; then look to improve treatment and intervention.
“We support hospitals with the best patient scheduling management, transition the patient through rehab and recovery, and start tracking them back to a state of wellbeing.
“All of this is centred on the human – their wellness, happiness and lifestyle – with care viewed as something ancillary that comes around every now and then.”
As one key example, Google recently announced Sleep Sensing – a radar-based sleep tracking technology with an algorithm for cough and snore detection.
“Sleep Sensing is an opt-in feature that can help users better understand their night-time wellness using a contactless bedside setup. This has important knock-on effects for energy, diet and productivity,” said Thomson.
Likewise, the firm is exploring new use cases for the internet of things (IoT), in terms of personalised treatments and chronic disease management.
“Through these tools, we hope to improve outpatient care and minimise readmission,” he added.
Minimising the chronic condition
Alongside prevention, diagnostic, and treatment technologies, a major investment priority has been assisted technologies that lessen the impact of chronic conditions – including deafness and muscular skeletal injuries.
To this end, Google has undertaken a deep assessment on how to improve the quality of life for people living with these conditions.
“For individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing we have explored everything from live captioning on video calls through to noise cancellation. We’re advancing research into new hearing aids, device support, and integration with other assistive technologies,” said Thomson.
“Where assisted devices are already embedded into technologies, we are combining the human data to generate real time insights – not just around health, but also the climate and environmental conditions such as where people are living. By analysing these micro and macro trends on a global scale, we can scale up and down on health problems.”
Beyond the devices
Complementing its technology investments, Google is exploring the relationship between new business models and smart solutions, in a bid to increase the productivity of the healthcare ecosystem.
“We are looking at how new tech can be brought together with smart solutions that move beyond the device and into the world of humans,” said Thomson.
“For example, we are looking at how to best structure things for corporatised buying – packaging new innovations together so that they are less piecemeal.”
Through a host of new initiatives, the firm is also creating a longitudinal view of the patient – that is secure, compliant, legible, and integrated.
“The aim is to provide a 360 degree view of a person’s health, with the individual at the centre,” said Thomson.
“At present, medical records consist of vast volumes of handwritten, abbreviated medical terminology from various imagery and diagnostic tools. Through document AI and voice data capture, we can translate medical records into something more query-able and analysable.”
Improving operational efficiency and reducing costs through automation is another key focus.
“We are working on how to provide the best clinical intelligence and workflows by automating manual processes that no one really likes doing, but which might add considerably to the care cycle.
“Additionally, how we can make the best of wearables, AI and remote monitoring in detection and treatment, to ensure treatments are not extended out to unacceptable times.”
Not just solutions looking for a problem
To avoid falling into the common vendor trap of designing tools they think are good for problems they think exist, Google is collaborating with hospitals such as Mayo Clinic in the USA.
Additionally, the firm takes efforts to ensure its teams are well-sourced and balanced.
“Our team is comprised of Doctors, Academics, Nurses and specialists. We have PhD researchers that have come straight out of university and former clinicians that have worked directly in the field we are researching. This has been essential for guiding our efforts on where we can innovate in a ward.”
Scott Thomson is Head of Innovation and Customer Engineering at Google. Join him at the Innovate Health Conference – 10-11 August 2021 for more insights on the healthcare pursuits his firm is advancing.
This year’s conference will be held virtually and in person at the Rydges Hotel in Melbourne.