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Google’s Efforts in Healthcare

Posted on November 20, 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.

I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at what Google is currently doing in healthcare. While Google Health was shut down a long time ago, Google still has an amazing interesting in health and healthcare. Actually, I’m not sure how much Google cares about healthcare, but the Google Founders do seem to care. I call it the Tech Geeks Got Old Effect (ie. They get old and have money they need to spend. So, they spend the money to try and prolong their life.)

By far, the biggest project that Google has announced in healthcare is Calico. They even have a website for the project. However, the website really doesn’t say much. Luckily, the wikipedia page offers a bit more info:

Calico is an independent R&D biotech company established in 2013 by Google Inc. whose goal is to tackle the process of aging. More specifically, Calico’s plan is to use advanced technology to increase understanding of the biology that controls lifespan, and to use that knowledge to increase longevity. The company is led by founder & CEO Arthur D. Levinson, who is the current chairman of Apple Inc. as well as the former chairman of Genentech and was on the board of directors of Hoffmann-La Roche. The name Calico is shorthand for California Life Company. Arthur Levinson had posted he and four others were principal in Calico on Google+. Those four people mentioned were: Robert Cohen, Hal V. Barron, David Botstein and Cynthia Kenyon. Three of the four named are or were previously affiliated with Genentech.

In Google’s 2013 Founders’ Letter, Larry Page described Calico as a company focused on “health, wellbeing and longevity.”

The thing I like most about Calico is that it seems like they understand the need to mix scientists, programmers, medically trained personnel, and more in order to solve many of the really challenging problems we face in healthcare. We’d love to think that one programmer in a garage at a computer could solve things, but my guess is that the next big change in healthcare will come from a scientist, programmer, data scientist and medical professional in a garage. I guess Calico doesn’t have the garage, but I like the cross disciplinary approach to the problems.

I’m hopeful they’re successful in their mission since I’m getting old as well. I think their goals are quite ambitious and so I think they’ll likely fail in the stated goals, but still do some amazing good along the way. That’s fine. I have a feeling that’s why Calico’s goals are so ambitious.

The other major project that Google’s doing in the healthcare space is Google Fit. I was and am still skeptical of Apple Health and it’s possible impact on healthcare. I’d say the same things about Google Fit. I’m not suggesting that either will be a massive flop. I think they’ll gain some traction and provide some benefit to a few people. However, I don’t see Google Fit as the transformative platform that Google and Apple want their solutions to be. Healthcare is much more complex than they realize and I don’t think either company wants to dive deep enough into healthcare to really make a massive change in how we view healthcare.

The #1 Google product for healthcare is actually something we probably take for granted. That’s the Google search results themselves. I know my wife has turned to Dr. Google plenty of times when her, my children or myself come down with something. Is this right or wrong? It doesn’t really matter. It’s just the reality. The quality of Google’s health search results could have as big of an impact on healthcare as almost any other healthcare company. That’s a really big deal and something that Google probably doesn’t even realize.

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.

Google Returns to Healthcare

Posted on September 19, 2013 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.

Many old timers will remember when Google Health was shut down and Google mostly got out of healthcare (although they certainly argue that many people turn to Doctor Google for health information). I wrote a lot about Google Health over the years. I was sad to see Google out of healthcare, but figured it was only a matter of time before they returned. However, I didn’t expect them to return the way they did.

Google just announced a new company called Calico that will focus on health and well-being. The announcement is light on details, but the various news outlets are saying that Google is trying to take on aging. No doubt Google has been known for crazy ideas, but trying to combat death might be their biggest challenge to date.

It’s also interesting that the new Google healthcare company will have Arthur Levinson as the CEO and a founding investor. Arthur Levinson is also Chairman and former CEO of Genentech and Chairman of Apple.

I love this quote from David Brailer from the LA Times: “Extending life is about as high as it gets on the human scale,” Brailer said. “It’s obviously a profoundly important goal.”

This investment and also other investment by rich tech entrepreneurs reminds me of this post I did from CES in 2012. In the post I talk about John Sculley and how it’s interesting how these older ex-CEOs are so interested in healthcare. I guess this is part of that trend.