Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, speaks at a cloud computing conference hosted by the company in 2019.
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Google Cloud on Monday announced new artificial intelligence-based search capabilities that it says will help healthcare professionals quickly extract accurate clinical information from different types of medical records.
The healthcare industry is home to a wealth of valuable information and data, but it can be challenging for doctors to find it since it is often stored in multiple systems and formats. Google Cloud’s new search tool will allow doctors to extract information from clinical notes, scanned documents and electronic health records so they can be accessed in one place.
The company said the new features will ultimately save healthcare professionals a significant amount of time and energy.
“While it may save time to do this research, it should also avoid frustration on behalf of doctors and [make] make sure they get to an answer more easily,” Lisa O’Malley, senior director of product management for Cloud AI at Google Cloud, told CNBC in an interview.
For example, if doctors want to know more about a patient’s history, they no longer need to separately read their notes, faxes and electronic health records. Instead, they can search for questions like “What medications has this patient taken in the last 12 months?” and see relevant information in one place.
Google’s new search capabilities can also be used for other crucial applications, such as applying the correct billing codes and determining whether patients meet the criteria to enroll in a clinical trial, O’Malley said.
She added that the technology can cite and link to the original source of information, which will come directly from the organization’s own internal data. This should help alleviate doctors’ concerns that the AI may be hallucinating or generating inaccurate responses.
Google Cloud headquarters in Sunnyvale, California.
The research resources will be especially valuable to healthcare professionals who are already overwhelmed by staffing shortages and a daunting amount of administrative paperwork.
A study funded by the American Medical Association in 2016 found that for every hour a doctor spent with a patient, he or she spent an additional two hours on administrative work. The study said doctors also tend to spend an additional one to two hours doing administrative work outside of work hours, what many in the industry call “pajama time.”
In 2022, 53% of doctors reported feeling burned out, up from 42% in 2018, according to a January Medscape survey.
Google hopes its new search offerings will reduce the amount of time doctors need to spend searching additional records and databases.
“Anything that Google can do, applying our search technologies, our health technologies and search capabilities to make the journey for doctors, for healthcare providers and for payers faster, more efficient, saving costs, I think will ultimately benefit us as patients,” O’Malley said.
The new capabilities will be offered to healthcare and life sciences organizations through Google’s Vertex AI Search platform, which companies in other industries can already use to search public websites, documents and other databases. Healthcare-specific offering builds on Google’s existing Healthcare API and Healthcare Data Engine products.
Aashima Gupta, global director of healthcare strategy and solutions at Google Cloud, said Vertex AI Search’s new capabilities can be integrated directly into a doctor’s workflow, which is of great importance to healthcare customers.
The healthcare industry has historically been more hesitant to adopt new technologies, and adoption can be even more difficult if healthcare professionals find new solutions distracting or difficult to work with. It’s something Gupta said Google has paid close attention to.
“These are the workflows that doctors and nurses experience day in and day out. You can’t add friction to that,” Gupta told CNBC in an interview. “We’re very cautious about the fact that we respect the surface they use, that the workflow doesn’t change, but they still get the power of this technology.”
Customers can sign up for early access to Vertex AI Search for healthcare and life sciences starting Monday, but Google Cloud is already testing the features with healthcare organizations including Mayo Clinic, Hackensack Meridian Health, and Highmark Health.
Mayo Clinic is not yet using the new Vertex AI Search tools in clinical care, said Cris Ross, Mayo’s chief information officer; It’s starting with administrative use cases.
“We are curious, excited and also careful,” he told CNBC in an interview. “And we’re not going to invest anything in patient care until it’s actually ready for patient care.”
In the future, Ross said, Mayo Clinic is looking to explore how Vertex AI Search tools could be used to help nurses summarize long surgical notes, sort through patients’ complex medical histories, and easily answer questions like “What is the status of this patient’s smoking?” But for now, the organization is starting slowly and examining where AI solutions like Google’s will be most useful.
Richard Clarke, chief analytics officer at Highmark Health, said the initial response to the organization’s research tools has been “tremendous” and that the company already has a backlog of more than 200 use case ideas. But as with the Mayo Clinic, he said the challenge will be to prioritize where the technology can be most useful, build employee trust in it and implement it at scale.
“This is still very early, implemented with small teams and a lot of support, really thinking about it,” Clarke told CNBC in an interview. “We’re not very far along yet, but all the early signs say this will be tremendously helpful and, frankly, in many cases, transformative for us.”
Google Cloud does not access customer data or use it to train models, and the company said the new service complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
Gupta said that as a patient, interacting with the healthcare system can feel like a very fragmented and challenging experience, so she’s excited to see how doctors can leverage Google’s new tools to create a more complete picture.
“For me, connecting the dots from the patient perspective has been a health care journey for a long time, but it is difficult,” Gupta said. “Now we’re at a point where AI is being useful in these very practical use cases.”
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