Google May Have Given Up On The EHR Market, But Definitely Not Health IT

For quite some time, giant technology companies have struggled to get a foothold in the healthcare business, but with relatively little success.

Now, if one Google executive is to be believed, these giants may have finally concluded that at least where the EHR market is concerned, they have thrown in the towel. On the other hand, Google at least has found other ways to stake a claim in health IT.

This widely-publicized assertion comes from Dr. Toby Cosgrove,  former president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, who now serves as executive advisor to Google, who spoke at the Intelligent Health conference in Basel this month.

“There’s not been discussions going on, with IBM and Google, around whether or not they should do a new electronic medical record,” Cosgrove told the Basel audience. “Quite frankly, I think it’s too late because across the world, everyone is invested heavily in their EMR systems – both in the cost of equipment and training of people who use them.”

Instead, they’re looking into other niches where they can make an impact. “Google has 40,000 engineers,” Cosgrove noted. “If they could apply that to an individual problem [in healthcare], they have a huge capability to deal with it. The question is: what problems are they going to apply it to?”

Generally speaking, the big opportunity for Google is “to take this enormous capability of AI and machine learning and apply it to the huge amount of data being collected at rapid rates,” he said. “We’re going to have unbelievable things that we can’t even imagine coming out of that.”

For example, Google is working on some advanced healthcare data analytics projects, and recently filed a patent application for technology which would help physicians sort patients by risk and predict future clinical events. Arguably, if this proposed analytics tool does a good enough job of merging predictive analytics with clinical decision support, it could help drive the shape of next-gen EHRs even without being one itself.

Another example of Google’s ongoing clinical data management projects is the pilot it conducted in 2017 testing the use of digital scribes. During the pilot, which it conducted in partnership with a Stanford University clinic, doctors wore microphones and recorded their patient consults (with patient permission). Once the sessions were recorded, team members used machine learning algorithms to detect patterns in the recordings which could help software complete progress notes automatically.

If these examples are any indication, Google is actually digging into health data management in ways which could potentially leapfrog projects underway within the halls of Epic, Cerner and the like. Bottom line, I wouldn’t bet the farm on my ability to out-innovate Google. I’d definitely watch the big G closely.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger 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.