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The Fundamental Challenge of Building a Healthcare-Provider Focused Startup

Posted on March 6, 2015 I Written By

Kyle is CoFounder and CEO of Pristine, a VC backed company based in Austin, TX that builds software for Google Glass for healthcare, life sciences, and industrial environments. Pristine has over 30 healthcare customers. Kyle blogs regularly about business, entrepreneurship, technology, and healthcare at kylesamani.com.

Over the past few years, the government imposed copious regulations on healthcare providers, most of which are supposed to reduce costs, improve access to care, and consumerize the patient experience. Prior to 2009, the federal government was far less involved in driving the national healthcare agenda, and thus provider IT budgets, innovation, and research and development agendas among healthcare IT vendors.

This is, in theory (and according to the government), a good idea. Prior to the introduction of the HITECH act in 2009, IT adoption in healthcare was abysmal. The government has most certainly succeeded in driving IT adoption in the name of the triple aim. But this has two key side effects that directly impact the rate at which innovation can be introduced into the healthcare provider community.

The first side effect of government-driven innovation is that all of the vendors are building the exact same features and functions to adhere to the government requirements. This is the exact antithesis of capitalism, which is designed to allow companies to innovate on their own terms; right now, every healthcare IT vendor is innovating on the government’s terms. This is massively inefficient at a macroeconomic level, and stifles experimentation and innovation, which is ultimately bad for providers and patients.

But the second side effect is actually much more nuanced and profound. Because the federal government is driving an aggressive health IT adoption schedule, healthcare providers aren’t experimenting as much as they otherwise would. Today, the greatest bottleneck to providers embarking on a new project is not money, brain power, or infrastructure. Rather, providers are limited in their ability to adopt new technologies by their bandwidth to absorb change. It is simply not possible to undertake more than a handful of initiatives at one time; management can’t coordinate the projects, IT can’t prepare the infrastructure, and the staff can’t adjust workflows or attend training rapidly enough while caring for patients.

As the government drives change, they are literally eating up providers’ ability to innovate on any terms other than the government’s. Prominent CIOs like John Halamka from BIDMC have articulated the challenge of keeping up with government mandates, and the need to actually set aside resources to innovate outside of government mandates.

Thus is the problem with health IT entrepreneurship today. Solving painful economic or patient-safety problems is simply not top of mind for CIOs, even if these initiatives broadly align with accountable care models. They are focused on what the government has told them to focus on, and not much else. Obviously, existing healthcare IT vendors are tackling the government mandates; it’s unlikely an under-capitalized startup without brand recognition can beat the legacy vendors when the basis of competition is so clear: do what the government tells you. Startups thrive when they can asymmetrically compete with legacy incumbents.

Google beat Microsoft by recognizing search was more important than the operating system; Apple beat Microsoft by recognizing mobile was more important than the desktop; SalesForce beat Oracle and SAP because they recognized the benefits of the cloud over on-premise deployments; Voalte is challenging Vocera because they recognized the power of the smartphone long before Vocera did. There are countless examples in and out of healthcare. Startups win when they compete on new, asymmetric terms. Startups never win by going head to head with the incumbent.

We are in an era of change in healthcare. It’s obvious that risk based models will become the dominant care delivery model, and this is creating enormous opportunity for startups to enter the space. Unfortunately, the government is largely dictating the scope and themes of risk-based care delivery, which is many ways actually stifling innovation.

Thus is the problem for health IT entrepreneurship today. Despite all of the ongoing change in healthcare, it’s actually harder than ever before to change healthcare delivery things as a startup. There is simply not enough attention of bandwidth to go around. When CIOs have strict project schedules that stretch out 18 months, how can startups break in? Startups can’t survive 18 month cycles.

Thus the is paradox of innovation: the more of it you’re told to innovate, the less you can actually innovate.

Digital Health at CES Wrap Up Video

Posted on January 21, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

CES 2015 is now in the headlights. One person I talked to said they thought that the event was missing some of the excitement of previous years. I disagreed with him. I thought it was more exciting than previous years. Although, my excitement comes from the entrepreneurs and the Digital Health space. If you look at the larger CES floor with the massive million dollar booths, it was lacking some luster. Of course, with the size of CES, it’s easy to understand why two people could have very different experiences.

If you’re interested about what else I found at CES, I sat down with Dr. Nick van Terheyden, CMIO at Nuance, to talk about our experiences at CES 2015 and some of the takeaways from what we saw. I think you’ll enjoy this CES 2015 video chat below:

A Video Look at the Digital Health, Fitness and Wellness Section of CES 2015

Posted on January 8, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

After my initial CES Observations post, I’ve spent most of the time on some over the counter drugs and trying to stay warm in bed. Luckily I think I’m on the way out of whatever cold/flu/misery I had upon me. However, it kind of ruined many of my CES plans.

With that said, I did make some time to go and at least check out the Digital Health section of CES 2015. I wrote about the wearables explosion over on Smart Phone Healthcare and to illustrate some of what I describe in that post, I shot this video of the Digital Health exhibition space at CES. I was moving pretty fast to get through it in 12 minutes, but you’ll see a bunch of the brands and booths that were there along with a feeling for the event (Yes, tomorrow I need to go and investigate the steady cam options at the show.).

If you’ve been at CES or watching the coverage back home. What’s been most exciting, interesting, impressive, thought provoking, disappointing?

6 Healthcare Incubators Growing the Future of HealthTech

Posted on October 30, 2014 I Written By

With the rapidly-growing demand for technologies that solve challenges for healthcare patients, professionals and institutions, many of the most innovative and disruptive solutions are coming not from large corporations, but small, scrappy startup companies.

With this trend has risen a group of startup “incubators” and “accelerators” specifically focused on healthcare technology entrepreneurs. These organizations serve as a launching pad for healthtech startups by facilitating high-value mentoring, collaboration and investor connections, plus basic needs like office infrastructure and seed funding.

For the startups, this gives them the time and resources to refine their technologies and services while finding investors and customers. Meanwhile the accelerators benefit by building local economies, solving healthcare challenges, and opening up highly-profitable opportunities for their backing investors

Below, we’ll introduce you to some of the leading incubators in the healthcare industry. These incubators have a proven track record in helping innovative young companies bring new ideas and services to consumers and businesses.

The Top-Six Healthcare Incubators and Accellerators

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Rock Health – Rock Health invites early stage companies to work within the incubator and receive funding and mentorship from a variety of companies and health organizations. Rock Health notes that 18% of our economy is healthcare-based, but it’s one of the last industries to receive a tech makeover.  With more than 50 active startups in its portfolio, Rock Health is one of the most experienced healthcare incubators, especially for startups that focus on providing web services, mobile applications and SaaS solutions for healthcare providers and companies.

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Health Wildcatters – Health Wildcatters is a mentorship-driven healthcare seed accelerator in Dallas; slightly different than an incubator. Though similar to incubators in their goals, accelerators typically acquire a small amount of equity in a startup, then work quickly to help a company achieve a short-term goal like raising money or launching a product. While incubators house companies for months or years, accelerators like Health Wildcatters work in weeks. Health Wildcatters focuses mainly on early-stage healthcare technology startups, including IT, SaaS, digital health and mobile health companies. Companies receive an initial seed investment and a 12-week program in which Health Wildcatters works quickly to help the company build value and refine its product. The name “wildcatter” hearkens back to independent oil entrepreneurs who were willing to take risks in where they drilled. Health Wildcatters takes the same approach to finding companies. This entrepreneurial approach allows it to help more startups reach their goals.

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StartUp Health –Chaired by TimeWarner CEO Jerry Levin, this incubator aims to fund 1,000 healthcare companies within the next decade to help transform the face of the healthcare industry. StartUp Health works to build sustainable growth in its companies over a three-year period. During the incubation period, StartUp Health matches companies with a network of more than 10,000 health professionals and business people focused on improving digital health and wellness.

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The Iron Yard – With its first location in Asheville, NC, the Iron Yard is growing a network of incubators focused on growing new areas of technology like digital health, green tech and emerging technologies. Its digital health accelerator, located in Spartanburg, SC, is working to turn one of the nation’s oldest railroad junctions into a hub for digital health innovation. The Iron Yard offers startups $20,000 in seed capital and three months of mentorship and workshops from experts in design, development and financing. The Iron Yard also offers training in web development and programming to place graduates with the startup companies it supports.

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Blueprint Health – Blueprint Health, located in New York City, is one of the largest incubators in any niche and offers an expansive network of healthcare mentors to assist healthcare entrepreneurs launch new ventures. Blueprint Health focuses on companies developing tech projects directly for hospitals, physicians and health plans rather than consumer-facing applications, which means deeper access to established customers. In 2013, Blueprint Health focused its efforts on mature startups companies. While many incubators assist early-stage companies, more than half of Blueprint’s mentees already had paying customers. With more than 12,000 sq. ft. of space and two classes per year, Blueprint Health is able to help more than 100 healthcare companies each year.

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Healthbox –  Healthbox offers accelerator programs in Boston, Chicago, Tampa, London, Nashville and Salt Lake City that provide  digital health entrepreneurs with funding and access to a global network of healthcare investors and providers. Healthbox launched its first accelerator program in Chicago in 2012 and quickly grew to other states and the UK. It recently expanded its business programs with $7 million in funding and started a program that helps hospitals create their own in-house Healthbox accelerator programs that, in turn, help companies gain traction within their own medical communities. So far, Healthbox has invested in 56 active startups, supported by a network of more than 350 expert mentors.

About the Author: David Vogel is a blogger for Datapipe, a leading provider of HIPAA-compliant hosting and managed cloud hosting. Connect with David on Twitter (@DavidVogelDotCo) and Google+ (+David Vogel).

Patient Shark Tank at Digital Health Conference

Posted on October 10, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

As most of you know, I’ve been working with NYeC to promote the Digital Health Conference since the very first Digital Health Conference 4 years ago. It’s a great event and I get a chance to meet many of you readers there. Plus, I just love spending time in NYC. If you’ve never been, you can register here (20% off your registration when you use the discount code: HCS).

I just heard about a new feature at the conference this year: The Patient Shark Tank. Here’s a description of what they have in store:

How do we ensure that the patient voice is amplified in the design, the development, or enhancement of innovations created FOR the patient? Patient communities are emerging as key influencers and disrupting the healthcare landscape. They are impacting strategies, policies, and setting the stage for new patient-centric innovations. Patients are now sought after thought leaders influencing the way healthcare systems think about and interact with patients and prodding them to improve the patient experience.

Join us as our judges rate innovations from the patient and caregiver perspective and innovators build their perspective into the innovations designed to serve them. As each innovator pitches their concept or initiative, our patient and caregiver panelists will ask targeted questions based on their experiences to understand how the innovation uniquely addresses patient needs. In addition, we will integrate clinician perspective to understand whether a doctor would prescribe the innovation to their patients.

I’m a huge fan of Shark Tank, so I love the idea. I only hope that they’ve got a line up of judges that are as entertaining as Shark Tank. Sometimes these events can get pretty bland if they choose judges who are shy about sharing their opinions on a company or product. That doesn’t benefit the companies or the audience.

Unfortunately, you won’t have much time to get your idea submitted. The deadline to apply to pitch your innovative concept or initiative is Thursday, October 16th. I look forward to seeing what ideas get pitched at the event.

Telemedicine A Critical New Approach To Primary Care

Posted on August 15, 2014 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Telemedical treatment has been a tantalizing possibility for many years, for reasons including a failure of health plans to pay for it and too little bandwidth to support it, but those reasons are quickly being trumped by the need for quick, cheap, convenient care.

In fact, according to research by Deloitte, 75 million of 600 million appointments with general practitioners will be via telemedicine channels this year alone.

While one might assume that this influx is coming from traditional primary care practices which are finding their way online, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Instead,a growing number of entrepreneurial startups are delivering primary care via smart phone and tablet, including Doctor on Demand and HealthTap, which offers videoconferences with PCPs, and options like Healthcare Magic and JustAnswer, which offer consumers the opportunity to get written responses to their healthcare queries from doctors.

Primary care doctors going into direct primary care are also joining the primary care telemedicine revolution; a key part of their business is based on making themselves available for consultation through all channels, including Skype/Facetime/Google Hangout meetings.

To date, most of the thinking about telemedicine have been that it’s an add-on service which is far to one side of the standard provision of primary care. However,with so many consumers paying out of pocket for primary care — and virtual visits typically priced far more cheaply than on-site visits — we may see a new paradigm emerge in which victims of  high-deductible plans and the uninsured rely completely on telemedical PCPs.

Rather than being merely a new technical development, I believe that the delivery of primary care via telemedical channels is a new form of ongoing primary care delivery.

It will take some work on the part of the telemedicine companies to sustain long-term relationships with patients, notably the use of an EMR to track ongoing care. And telemedicine PCPs will need to develop new approaches to working with other providers smoothly, as coordination of care will remain important. Health IT companies would be wise to consider robust, unified platforms that allow all of this to happen smoothly.

Regardless, the bottom line is that primary care telemedicine isn’t an intriguing sideline, it’s the birth of a new way to think about financing and delivery of care. Let’s see if traditional providers jump in, or if they let the agile new virtual PCP companies take over.

This Geek Girl’s Singing: HIMSS 14 Social Media Finale

Posted on March 14, 2014 I Written By

Mandi Bishop is a healthcare IT consultant and a hardcore data geek with a Master's in English and a passion for big data analytics, who fell in love with her PCjr at 9 when she learned to program in BASIC. Individual accountability zealot, patient engagement advocate, innovation lover and ceaseless dreamer. Relentless in pursuit of answers to the question: "How do we GET there from here?" More byte-sized commentary on Twitter: @MandiBPro.

As one of the inaugural crop of HIMSS Social Media Ambassadors, a second-generation native Floridian, and a former Orlando resident, it is my sworn duty to summarize, recap, and perhaps satirize the last group of Blog Carnival posts, to metaphorically sing the HIMSS opera finale. And you folks submitted some doozies! I’m very grateful to the HIMSS (@HIMSS) and SHIFT Communications (@SHIFTComm) team for providing me with links to all entries. Y’all have been BUSY!

A man after my own heart, and a frequent #HITsm participant who weathers harsh criticism with witty aplomb: Dan Haley’s (from athenahealth, @DanHaley5) piece on 3 Takeaways From HIMSS – Policy And Otherwise caught my attention with the line, “Regulators are from Mars…” He stole my favorite blog entry prize with the line: “Orlando is magical when you are a kid. Kids don’t attend HIMSS.”

First-time attendee Jeffrey Ting (from Systems Made Simple) outlined his experiences with some of my favorite topics in his piece, HIMSS Reflections By A First-Time Attendee: HIEs and interoperability. I agree with him: the Interoperability Showcase’s “Health Story” exhibit was one of the best presentations of the whole conference.

Dr. Geeta Nayyar’s perspective as a board member of HIMSS and CMIO for PatientPoint gave her a unique vantage point for her post, HIMSS 14: A Truly Inspiring Event. Take note, HIMSS conference planners – your monumental efforts were recognized, as was the monumental spirit of the closing keynote speaker, Erik Weihenmayer.

HIMSS Twitter recaps permeated the blogosphere, with my favorite being the inimitable Chuck Webster’s (@wareflo) HIMSS14 Turned It Up To 11 On And Off-Line!. Chuck also periodically provided trend analysis results of year-over-year #HIMSS hashtag traffic for each period of the conference, complete with memes for particular shapes: Loch Ness monster humped-back, familiar faces of frequent tweeters.

Health IT guru Brian Ahier’s (@ahier) wrapped up the “Best In Show” of HIMSS Blog Carnival , complete with Slideshare visuals awarding Ed Parks of Athenahealth “Best Presentation” and providing an excellent summation of must-read posts.

Interoperability was one of the most prevalent themes of HIMSS, and a plethora of posts discussing the healthcare industry’s progress on the path to Dr. Doug Fridsma’s (@Fridsma) High Jump Of Interoperability (Semantic-Level) were submitted to the Blog Carnival. Notable standouts included: Shifting to a Culture of Interoperability by Rick Swanson from Deloitte, and Dr. Summarlan Kahlon’s (of Relay Health), Diagnosis: A Productive HIMSS 2014, which posited that, “this year’s conference was the first one which convinced me that real, seamless patient-level interoperability is beginning to happen at scale.”

And who could forget about patient engagement, the belle of the HIMSS ball? Telehealth encounters, mobile health apps and implications, patient portals, and the Connected Patient Gallery dominated the social media conversation. Carolyn Fishman from DICOM Grid called it, HIMSS 2014: The Year of the Patient, and discussed trepidation patients feel about portal technologies infringing on face-time.

Quantified-self wearable-tech offered engagement opportunities, as well. Having won one such gadget herself, Jennifer Dennard (@SmyrnaGirl) gave props to organizations like Patientco and Nuance for their use (and planned use) of wearable tech in support of employee wellness programs, and posited on the applications of such tech in the monitoring and treatment of chronic disease in her piece, Watching for Wearables at HIMSS14.

Finally, if you’re able to read Lisa Reichard’s (from Billians Health Data) @billians) highlights piece,Top 10 Tales and Takeaways, without busting out into Beatles tunes, you probably wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun as she and I did at HISTalkapalooza, dancing to Ross Martin’s smooth parodies. You also probably don’t have your co-workers frantically purchasing noise-canceling headphones.

I did say I’d be singing to bring HIMSS to a virtual close.

Can’t wait to get back to the metaphorical microphone for HIMSS 2015 in Chicago!

Healthcare Data Centers and Cloud Solutions

Posted on March 4, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

As a former system administrator that worked in a number of data centers, it’s been really interesting for me to watch the evolution of healthcare data centers and the concept of healthcare cloud solutions. I think we’re seeing a definite switch by many hospital CIOs towards the cloud and away from the hassle and expense of trying to run their own data centers. Plus, this is facilitated greatly by the increased reliability, speed, and quality of the bandwidth that’s available today. Sure, the largest institutions will still have their own data centers, but even those organizations are working with an outside data center as well.

I had a chance to sit down for a video interview with Jason Mendenhall, Executive Vice President, Cloud at Switch Supernap to discuss the changing healthcare data center and cloud environment. We cover a lot of ground in the interview including when someone should use cloud infrastructure and when they shouldn’t. We talk about the security and reliability of a locally hosted data center versus an outside data center. We also talk a little about why Las Vegas is a great place for them to have their data center.

If you’re a healthcare organization who needs a data center (Translation: All of you) or if you’re a healthcare IT company that needs to host your application (Translation: All of you), then you’ll learn a lot from this interview with Jason Mendenhall:

As a side note, the Switch Supernap’s Innevation Center is the location for the Health IT Marketing and PR Conference I’m organizing April 7-8, 2014 in Las Vegas. If you’re attending the conference, we can also set you up for a tour of the Switch Supernap while you’re in Vegas. The tour is a bit like visiting a tech person’s Disneyland. They’ve created something really amazing when it comes to data centers. I know since a secure text message company I advise, docBeat, is hosted there with one of their cloud partners Itrica.

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Posted on February 28, 2014 I Written By

Kyle is CoFounder and CEO of Pristine, a VC backed company based in Austin, TX that builds software for Google Glass for healthcare, life sciences, and industrial environments. Pristine has over 30 healthcare customers. Kyle blogs regularly about business, entrepreneurship, technology, and healthcare at kylesamani.com.

There are an enormous number of startups trying to solve the medication adherence problem. Broadly speaking, these startups are trying to solve the problem through three avenues:

1) Hardware, i.e. smart pill bottles

2) Semi-intelligent software driven reminders

3) Patient education

The most effective solutions are likely to incorporate all three.

The hardware space has been the most interesting simply because of the variety of solutions cropping up. AdhereTech and CleverCap have developed unique pill bottles that control and monitor dispensing via proprietary smart pill bottles. They also incorporate software for notifications. Unfortunately, all smart pill bottle makers are bounded by FDA regulations because they physically control medications through a combination of hardware and software. FDA regulations will slow time rollout of these solutions to market and create enormous new expense.

I recently learned about PillPack, a startup that just raised $4M. They compete asymmetrically in the medication adherence by not making any hardware at all!

The problem with the pill bottle is that there are dozens of pills in a single container. Measuring and controlling output and consumption is intrinsically a difficult problem. PillPack solves these problems by simply averting the issue entirely. PillPack pre-packs pills by dose. This is particularly valuable because they pre-pack multiple kinds of medications that need to be taken at the same time.

PillPack doesn’t yet have any intelligent software that monitors when medications are taken. But with granular packaging, sensing and controlling the medications becomes dramatically easier than ever before. I suspect this will the marquee feature of PillPack 2.0. Once they add the ability to detect when a pack is opened, they can begin adding intelligent software alerts and reminders to patients and their families.

PillPack has a far more lucrative distribution strategy than companies who have to produce and distribute hardware. PillPack can scale their customer base incredibly quickly through B2C marketing. B2C marketing isn’t easy; Pillpack faces a significant challenge in terms of patient and provider education, but it’s one that’s definitely addressable. If PillPack’s service is as good as I think it is, they should develop incredibly happy customers, which will lead to recurring revenues and strong referrals.

The moment I saw Pillpack, I immediately recognized it as one of those “duh” business. We’re going to look back in 10 years and wonder why this wasn’t always around. Their solution solves so many of the pain points around taking medications on time and is coupled with a lucrative business model that feeds off of recurring revenues from long term customers.

The genius of their business is that they are tackling the medication adherence problem from a unique angle: packaging and distribution. They’ve bundled that solution into a simple and elegant package (pun intended) that helps patients avoid the pain of the modern US healthcare system: going to the pharmacy, fighting with the pharmacist, and manually tracking when to take how much of each medication.

Full disclosure: I have no relationship(s) with PillPack.

Will Google Use Health IT To Make You Immortal?

Posted on November 15, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

When Google Health, an attempt at a personal health record, turned out to be an unqualified failure, the consensus was that people just weren’t interested.

But health care is too big, important and data-ridden a field for Google to ignore. And now the company has moved on to a concept sure to be in demand: It wants to help you live forever. Google’s new anti-aging initiative, Calico, will apparently treat mortality as a big-data problem.

But is data the path to eternal life — or even a few more good years? I’d feel a little more comfortable booking a cruise for the year 2199 if Google had accomplished something in health care already.

Google officials, including cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, haven’t said much about what Calico will actually do. But the project seems to take inspiration from 23andMe, a firm that Google helped to start and whose goal is “to make it possible to create a massive genomic database and thereby understand the permutations and mutations that happen to the human genome during the aging process,” according to the Washington Post.

Time explained in a feature article that medicine “is well on its way to becoming an information science.”

“Doctors and researchers are now able to harvest and mine massive quantities of data from patients,” the magazine continued. “And Google is very, very good with large data sets.”

When you put it that way, it sounds kind of reasonable. And if Google invents a medication, an app or a device that brings about a longer lifespan, then I will certainly take it, download it, wear it or whatever is required. But I doubt the human lifespan is quite that reducible.

The rich and powerful have often hoped to use their resources to overcome their mortality. And as Pete Shanks wrote, “immortality and transhumanist ideas generally have long been a source of fascination in Silicon Valley.”

Ray Kurzweil, Google’s engineering director, is a noted futurist who believes we’ll upload our minds to computers and achieve digital immortality by 2045. It’s not clear what role, if any, Kurzweil will have in Calico.

The human lifespan doesn’t seem to have budged in 100,000 years, but that’s not to say it’s impossible. I don’t doubt that humans’ maximum time on Earth could be increased. Maybe. Someday. For the longest time, humans didn’t fly or play Minecraft, either. And it’s been done in other species.

But Shanks was right when he wrote of Calico that “what’s most aggravating is the hubris involved.” A common fallacy among highly successful people is to think that expertise in one area will apply to other fields.

Google is great at search. Its map service is also ubiquitous, and I’ve heard that its driverless car works well. But when it comes to chaotic human data, the company’s algorithms might not work as well. Take free-form language, for example. When I use Google Translate to decipher the Chinese-language Wikipedia entry for “immortality,” I get sentences like this: “If you can maintain Chang Heng unchanged, it is possible to ‘live forever,’ but before the observation Everything in the world is now, whether living or heartless thing, and both are changing all the time.” It’s an app that can be helpful, but it doesn’t give me confidence that Google can overcome the limitations of our mortal coils. It can barely understand what we’re talking about.

And Google’s track record in health care is, of course, not so strong. Google Health, introduced in 2008 as a way for consumers to collect their health records online, was defunct by the end of 2011. Few consumers found it worth the effort of entering their data, given Google Health’s lack of capabilities such as appointment scheduling, InformationWeek reported.

Let’s hope that whatever Calico comes up with proves more useful. If it can be packaged as a free download, even better.

But I’d rather see Google invest its considerable resources in something with a higher chance of a payoff.