The Future of Healthcare is Looking Like a Tech Company

How will Google’s giant leap in health innovation affect the way we look at healthcare companies in the near future? For years, pharmaceutical & healthcare companies have sat on mountains of data, but with the lack of CDO or CIO representation at the executive board, much of this valuable data slip through the cracks. 2020 marks the year for change, and the implementation of AI will revolutionize prevention, diagnosis, patient outcomes, R&D, and patient experience, and Google is at the forefront.

Google Health has made leaps and bounds in healthcare, and according to their website, the core of their research is focused on “diagnosing cancer, predicting patient outcomes, preventing blindness, and much more.” Their use of “Deep Learning” AI is particularly fascinating, as they mention using the “same types of machine learning that predict traffic during your commute or the next word in a translation from English to Spanish could be used for clinical predictions”. Research found that these AI assessments scored significantly higher in prediction accuracy than traditional methods, and have proven to be scalable by not having to manually select or harmonize the variables to use. Google is the spark that started a fire in healthcare, but that doesn’t come without skepticism from experts in the industry.

Google’s recent acquisition of FitBit and the discovery of the Nightingale project have called criticism over the legality of Google’s data use. The $2.1B FitBit acquisition is currently being reviewed by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, and public concern continues to grow as Google’s trove of data envelopes the healthcare industry. The Nightingale project, which was recently uncovered by the Wall Street Journal, revealed that Google, with the help of Ascension’s network, secretly harvested upwards of 50 million medical records – this includes patient names, lab results, diagnoses, hospitalization records, and prescriptions. A single company having access to our complete search and browsing history, purchasing, locations (and how long we spent there) in addition to our medical records from the Nightingale project & the day-to-day datasets acquired by a FitBit – heart rates, step counts, sleeping patterns, etc. is surely alarming from a data privacy standpoint. Yet the accessibility to preventive medical advice can positively change healthcare as we know it. 

Does the future entail a push notification when you’re pregnant, and will Google be the one to alert you of a health concern before it’s too late? Daunting as it sounds, the integration of technology and health can aid the prevention and/or treatment of diabetes, obesity, and countless heart problems or various other conditions.

 Aarti Shah, Chief Information Officer at Eli Lilly said to CIODive, “Whether it’s warranted or not, every company is becoming a data and technology company”.

In years past, the Chief Digital Officer role was atypical in healthcare, but recently GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Merck & Co., Sanofi, Eli Lilly & Novartis have appointed either a CDO or CIO to sit on the companies’ executive committees for the very first time.”It’s not surprising that they’re allocating specific resources to people in these seats […] they’re all talking about the importance of big data, and they’re all to some extent behind in using data in their drug development and commercial efforts”, Vamil Divan, an analyst at Credit Suisse, interviewed by CIODive.

The inclusion of CDOs and CIOs in board decisions is a crucial element to digitally transforming the healthcare industry, and this could drastically improve upon the cost & efficiency of R&D in pharma. Narasimhan’s latest project allows their R&D team to track, analyze and predict the status of all their clinical studies, that’s 500+ active trials in 70+ countries across 80,000+ patients using machine learning, thus transforming the way Narasimhan develops medicine. 

Further proof to the digital/tech shift in health, The Department of Veterans Affairs has recently opened The National Artificial Intelligence Institute, and their website highlights, “VA is the largest integrated health care system in the country, has the largest genomic knowledge base in the world linked to health care information, and trains the largest number of nurses and doctors in the United States. […] Given this, VA is uniquely positioned to advance AI research and development to the frontiers of science and health for our nation’s Veterans, and the population at large.”

Digital transformation has already shaken all industries, and much like Google has pioneered the way we use the internet, tech giants of the world will poignantly change healthcare as we know it. The core intention of Healthcare 2.0 is ease & accessibility partnered with data-driven prevention, all of which are shortcomings in the current state of healthcare. Too often, patients are left unaware of an issue before it’s too late, and most fatally, we see this in the leading cause of death in the US– heart disease.

The issue that’s left unaddressed is how these changes can scale without compromising our data privacy. Where do we draw the line in what is deemed as “warranted” data collection for the sake of our health? In the coming years, it will become all the more inevitable that this question comes to an answer. 

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PUBLISHED BY Emily French

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