How Google is Changing Your Healthcare

Google believes the future of healthcare is in structured data and AI. If they are right, this will transform the way we interact with health. But this raises the question, should we allow a company who makes money from sharing data closer to our medical records.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Why Google?

A doctor is effectively an expert in pattern recognition. They spend years at medical school learning as many patterns as possible, then attempt to see these patterns in patients in order to diagnose them. E.g. a patient with epigastric pain, vomiting and a raised amylase (blood test) = pancreatitis. The pattern is their symptoms, signs and investigations, which all add up to their diagnosis.

How Google is Tackling Disease

Google is using a smart approach to tackle some of the world’s most complex diseases. It does this initially by (you guessed it) data generation. It does this through its wearables and analysing imaging, e.g. CT, MRI, etc. It is then attempting to use AI to detect diseases using this data. It is then using this data combined with its wearable tech to help patients make positive lifestyle modifications.

Eye Disease

Diabetic retinopathy happens in patients with poorly controlled diabetes. It is the result of damage to the small vessels at the back of the eye and in severe cases can cause blindness. There is a characteristic appearance at the back of the eye at various stages of this disease. Google (or more precisely its subsidiary Verily) is attempting to detect these changes using AI. It has partnered with a subsidiary of Nikon, Optos, which produces machines for retinal imaging.

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Google AI Research

Diabetes

Google, again through Verily, are attempting to solve the issue of blood glucose monitoring. Currently, diabetics have to prick there fingers to draw blood in order to directly measure their blood sugar level.

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The current method for blood glucose monitoring — Image by Tesa Robbins from Pixabay

Heart Disease

Google is attempting to develop tools that will allow improved monitoring of heart disease. Its first attempt is the Study Watch produced by Verily. The watch includes an ECG and heart rate monitor which can be used to monitor the signs of heart disease.

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Study Watch by Verily

Parkinson’s Disease

Verily has partnered with teams in the Netherlands to sift through anonymised data of patients who suffer from Parkinson’s disease in an attempt to help identify the disease earlier as well as improve its management. This project has been called the Personalized Parkinson’s Project.

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Liftware Spoons from Liftware

How Google is Tackling Data

At the heart of almost everything Google does, there is data. A huge issue with healthcare data is its poor quality, connectivity and accessibility. Data is not stored well, different systems cannot be integrated with one another, and it is difficult to access due to enhanced data privacy regulation in healthcare. In order to tackle this Google have created multiple routes to improve physicians ability to feed healthcare data into its AI systems.

New data pipes

The healthcare industry is beginning to realise the benefits of a fully integrated system, all be it very slowly. FHIR (Faster Healthcare Interoperability Resources) create standard practices for different healthcare elements. This means that companies can build APIs for healthcare data that will allow applications and researchers to access data in a standardised manner.

Google Cloud

Google is focusing more energy into its cloud computing platform. Although, it finds itself behind Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services in many areas.

Third-Party Datasets

Rather than just tapping into existing datasets, Google is attempting to build its own through Verily. Verily is working on two large projects:

  • Project Baseline: Verily’s own research which is run entirely by Google. Aiming to produce its own dataset from 10,000 participants over 4 years. Participants will monitor their everyday activities using a Study Watch, sleep sensors, and respond to periodic survey questions. Participants also need to visit a participating site 4 times a year for more in-depth tests.

Should we let Google do this?

It is well known that the public perception of Google, especially around issues of privacy, is not favourable. In some fields, this is not so much an issue. But in healthcare privacy and data protection is at the forefront of most peoples minds.

Summary

Google has a tremendous capability to transform healthcare for the better. However, the extent to which they do this is not so much restricted by their technical ability, but the trust the public holds in tech giants with their personal data. In order for Google to capitalise on this new and exciting market, they must first restore our faith in such companies to maintain our privacy and act with responsibility.

Medical Doctor | Medical Technology | Neurology | Published Researcher | While I have your attention, you may as well scroll down.

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