Author Archives: Dr. Karen DeSalvo

Unlocking the potential of technology to support health

This week kicked off the HLTH Conference in Las Vegas where thousands of healthcare leaders, care providers, patients and other people in the industry — like our teams at Google — are coming together to discuss how to create a healthier world.

At Google, we believe that technology — especially AI and analytics — can unlock a better future for health globally. Our teams from Search, YouTube, Android, Google Cloud and more are using technology to provide health information and insights for consumers, caregivers and communities. Here’s a look at some of our latest updates.

Giving people information and insights to take action on their health

For many, the front door to healthcare is their smartphone. Millions of people turn to Google Search and YouTube for authoritative information or use apps and connected devices, like Fitbit, to help stay on top of health and wellness goals.

To give Android users a new way to get more from their health and wellness data, we introduced Health Connect earlier this year at Google I/O. Through our Early Access Program, more than 10 health, fitness and wellness apps including MyFitnessPal, Oura and Peloton have already integrated with the platform to help people manage everything from workouts to diet to sleep and more. We are now opening up to more developers with Health Connect (Beta) to give people a single place to manage access to data across their health and fitness apps. In the coming months, we will continue to create an even richer ecosystem of apps and features.

Image of app icons

We’ve also made strides on our other platforms, Search and YouTube. In 2021, health videos on YouTube were viewed more than 12 billion times in the U.S. YouTube’s authoritative health content and features are now available in 7 countries, and YouTube recently opened up its features to a wider group of health experts in the U.S. to encompass authoritative services that extend beyond educational institutions and health organizations.

On Search, there’s more ways for people to turn health information into action. After piloting a feature earlier this year that shows available healthcare appointments for primary care, we’re continuing to explore new ways to expand appointments to other specialities and verticals through new and existing partnerships.

This work is made possible by all our partners who provide the health information, insights and experiences that empower consumers in their health.

Equipping healthcare ecosystem with analytics and AI to improve health

Healthcare is one of the largest and most complex industries that is turning towards technology to help organizations run more effectively — which in turn helps people live healthier lives.

When organizations commit to digital transformation, it can be a long and overwhelming process, but that doesn’t mean it has to take years to see benefits for developers, clinicians and patients.

Google Cloud came together with several of our customers and partners — including Hackensack Meridian Health, Lifepoint Health and Mayo Clinic — to find a way to encourage rapid reinvention. As a result, we built Google Cloud’s new Healthcare Data Engine (HDE) accelerators to help organizations reinvent quickly and enable the data interoperability that saves lives. The first three HDE accelerators, available in early 2023, will address common use cases around health equity, patient flow, and value-based care.

The transformation of healthcare requires an open and collaborative approach to be successful. For example, Electronic Health Records (EHR) are a critical part of this ecosystem and we see many ways to work with EHR companies for the benefit of healthcare organizations. Today marks a critical development in this journey. At HLTH we announced an agreement that will allow healthcare organizations to run Epic — an EHR system — on Google Cloud. Hackensack Meridian Health plans to move its Epic workloads to Google Cloud, with the aim to drive greater innovation, efficiencies and security.

And with our solution Care Studio, we’ve been working with MEDITECH to bring our advanced search, summarization and sense-making capabilities to their EHR, MEDITECH Expanse. We are now extending this integrated solution to our first two partners, Mile Bluff Medical Center and DCH Health System, to give their health teams a more complete view of their patients and easily find salient information to provide better care. This includes organizing patient records from different sources into a longitudinal view, bringing our advanced search functionality to clinicians directly in their EHR so they can easily and quickly access critical information all in one place.

Fitbit Health Solutions is bringing our technology to healthcare partners, incorporating Fitbit devices, services and insights into programs focused on managing chronic conditions like diabetes. A study from the All of Us research program found that increasing your daily step count by 1000 steps could cut the risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 25%. This kind of insight is key to promoting lifestyle changes for people, and why we are partnering with Babylon Health to support their high-risk members managing chronic conditions.

Underpinning all our work is a deep commitment to make sure that we do not leave anyone behind. Technology has the power to eliminate health disparities and democratize access to healthcare. But we need to be intentional in our efforts to live up to our goal of improving the health of billions of people by building for everyone, everywhere.

Democratizing access to health

Editor’s note: This essay originally appeared in The Global Governance Project's magazine, as part of Google's wider participation in the World Health Summit. Dr. Garth Graham, the global head of YouTube Health, also contributed a piece on the role of information as a determinant of health.

The COVID-19 pandemic energized public-private partnerships and strengthened the role of technology towards democratizing access to health to help billions of people everywhere live healthier lives — but fresh challenges are emerging from its shadow

COVID-19 has been a generation-defining challenge filled with incalculable human costs and long-term impacts that remain unclear. Like many, I have been reflecting on how the pandemic will shape medicine and public health in particular for generations to come.

The pandemic severely tested public health. Many places around the world could not keep pace with the demands of disease surveillance and continue to see challenges with vaccination rates. Still, public health rose to the occasion. Public health officials quickly interpreted evolving science to provide guidance that kept individuals and communities safe. There were also live-saving scientific advancements — from realizing the promise of mRNA vaccines and adaptive clinical trials to using real-world clinical data to inform regulatory processes.

Underlying some incredible gains were public-private partnerships — particularly between the technology and health sectors — which I believe will continue to flourish. These partnerships have made the wider dissemination of public health messages, better data and surveillance systems, and faster interventions possible.

For our part at Google, we adapted to accommodate this hopefully once-in-a-lifetime event by launching more than 200 new products, features and initiatives, in addition to providing in-kind donations totaling more than $1 billion.

Surfacing quality information is part of our core mission. During the first weeks of the pandemic, we recognized the opportunity to provide the right information, at the right time through the reach of platforms such as Search and YouTube that amplified health messages to billions of people, encouraging them to “flatten the curve” through non-pharmacologic interventions. We donated Google Search Advertising and offered assistance to organizations, such as the World Health Organization, to provide more than two billion COVID-related public service announcements that connected nearly 100 million people to high-quality information.

Issues masked by the pandemic

Today, as we conceive of a time when COVID-19 is endemic, we must turn our attention in earnest to other global challenges that the pandemic masked or even exacerbated. For our part, we will continue to use our products, technologies and expertise to help people, their caregivers and their communities, focusing on areas that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, such as mental health and maternal health.

During the first year of the pandemic, anxiety and depression increased by 25% across the globe.[aea966]Searches for “mental health therapist” and “mental health help” reached record highs in the U.S. in 2022.[3def86]To make it easier to access mental health services and resources — such as clinically validated mental health self-assessments and crisis hotlines — we are enhancing information resources on Search and YouTube, partnering with organizations including the National Alliance on Mental Illness in the US, the Samaritans in the UK and iCall in India.

The pandemic also made it clear that existing healthcare gaps need to be filled so people can access the best care no matter where they are. At least half of the global population lacks essential health services[31a300], such as immunizations and pediatric care. Technology can help fill these capacity gaps — especially artificial intelligence. Already, AI has demonstrated promise not just as a tool to support significant gains in health care, but also as a means to eliminate disparities and improve health for everyone, everywhere. We are invested in the research and development of these technologies, and doing so inclusively and ethically.

For example, the global maternal mortality rate remains high, with an average of 152 deaths per 100,000 live births.[b27223]The vast majority of deaths occur in low- and lower-middle income countries. We are partnering with Northwestern Medicine to expand access to fetal ultrasound, validating the use of AI to create more automated and accurate evaluations of maternal and fetal health risks. The goal is to train providers and community health workers to conduct ultrasounds and assessments in the field.

Another area where AI can be helpful is cancer screening. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer with 2.26 million new cases occurring each year, yet early screening and detection can improve long-term outcomes.[3e6ff6]We have been researching how AI can reduce the time to diagnosis and improve the patient experience.

The full picture

As we support health service providers across the globe, we are uncovering ways to make sure they have the information they need to care for patients. Today, healthcare workers use smartphone applications to manage data specific to certain diseases, for example malaria and tuberculosis. But that data is often stored across multiple applications and formats, making it hard to have a full picture of a patient’s needs. To provide access to advanced mobile digital health solutions, we are working with the WHO to build an open-source software development kit, or SDK.

We see these innovations as important steps on the road to democratizing health care. There are more on the horizon, fueled by AI and cloud computing, that can bring more meaning to the data and unlock innovation. A great example of this can be found in emerging efforts at the intersection of public health and climate change where we are beginning to see patterns and associations among climate, weather and health.

Technology is just one tool to solve these public health challenges and its effectiveness depends on robust public-private partnerships. When we look back at the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the related health crises it brought awareness to, I believe that we will recognize it as a moment that energized our ability to collaborate. And that spirit of collaboration and partnerships will transform public health and democratize its benefits for everyone, everywhere.

The Check Up: helping people live healthier lives

My years spent caring for patients at the bedside and in the clinic inspired me to find ways to improve health for them and their communities at scale. That passion eventually brought me to Google where I could help solve the world’s most significant health challenges.

I joined the company just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. At the time, most people hadn’t heard of “flattening the curve” or “mRNA vaccines.” But what they did know was that they could turn to Google with their questions. The COVID-19 pandemic strengthened our resolve that Google could and should help everyone, everywhere live a healthier life. It also accelerated our company-wide health efforts.

We embed health into our products to meet people where they are. Our teams apply their expertise and technological strengths and harness the power of partnerships to support our 3Cs – consumers, caregivers and communities around the world.

Today, we’re hosting our second annual Google Health event, The Check Up. Teams from across the company — including Search, YouTube, Fitbit, Care Studio, Health AI, Cloud and Advanced Technologies and Projects team — will share updates about their latest efforts.

Among the areas of progress, I’m delighted at the ways our teams are working to support consumers with helpful information and tools throughout their health journeys.

Making it easier to find and book local care providers in the U.S.

When people have questions about their health, they often start with the internet to find answers. No matter what people are searching for on Google Search, it's our mission to give high-quality information, exactly when it’s needed.

The Search team recently released features to help people navigate the complex healthcare system and make more informed decisions, like finding healthcare providers who take their insurance.

At today's event, Hema Budaraju, who leads our Health and Social Impact work for Search, introduced a feature we’re rolling out that shows the appointment availability for healthcare providers so you can easily book an appointment. Whether you put off your annual check-up, recently moved and need a new doctor, or are looking for a same-day visit to a MinuteClinic at CVS, you might see available appointment dates and times for doctors in your area.

While we’re still in the early stages of rolling this feature out, we’re working with partners, including MinuteClinic at CVS and other scheduling solution providers. We hope to expand features, functionality and our network of partners so we can make it easier for people to get the care they need.

Screenshot of new appointment availability feature

Helping people in Brazil, India and Japan discover local, authoritative health content on YouTube

Of all the information channels people turn to for health information, video can be a helpful and powerful way to help people make informed healthcare decisions. People can watch and listen to experts translate complex medical terms and information into simple language and concepts they easily understand, and they can connect with communities experiencing similar conditions and health challenges.

Dr. Garth Graham talked about YouTube Health’s mission of providing equitable access to authoritative health information that is evidence-based, culturally relevant and engaging. In the past year, YouTube has focused on building partnerships with leading health organizations and public health leaders to increase the volume and visibility of authoritative health content through new features.

Starting this week in Japan, Brazil and India, YouTube is adding health source information panels on videos to provide context that helps viewers identify videos from authoritative sources, and health content shelves that more effectively highlight videos from these sources when people search for specific health topics. These context cues help people easily navigate and evaluate credible health information.

Supporting heart health with Fitbit

In addition to information needs, people use our consumer technologies and tools to support their health and wellness. Fitbit makes it easy and motivating for people to manage their holistic health, from activity and nutrition to sleep and mindfulness. Fitbit co-founder James Park shared how Fitbit believes wearables can have an even greater impact on supporting people with chronic conditions, including heart conditions like atrial fibrillation (AFib).

In 2020, the team launched the Fitbit Heart Study, with nearly half a million people who use Fitbit. The goal was to test our PPG (Photoplethysmography) AFib algorithm, which passively looks at heart rate data, to alert people to signs of an irregular heart rhythm.

We presented the study results at the most recent American Heart Association meeting, showing that the algorithm accurately identified undiagnosed AFib 98% of the time. We’ve submitted our algorithm to the FDA for review. This is one of many ways we’re continuing to make health even more accessible.

Building the future for better health

These updates are only a slice of what we covered at the event. Check out our Health AI blog post and tune into our event to hear more about ways we are advancing better, more equitable health for everyone.

HLTH: Building on our commitments in health

Tonight kicked off the HLTH event in Boston that brings together leaders across health to discuss healthcare's most pressing problems and how we can tackle them to improve care delivery and outcomes.

Over the past two years, the pandemic shined a light on the importance of our collective health — and the role the private sector, payers, healthcare delivery organizations, governments and public health play in keeping communities healthy. For us at Google, we saw Search, Maps and YouTube become critical ways for people to learn about COVID-19. So we partnered with public health organizations to provide information that helped people stay safe, find testing and get vaccinated. In addition, we provided healthcare organizations, researchers and non-profits with tools, data and resources to support pandemic response and research efforts.

As I mentioned on the opening night of HLTH, Google Health is our company-wide effort to help billions of people be healthier by leaning on our strengths: organizing information and developing innovative technology. Beyond the pandemic, we have an opportunity to continue helping people to address health more holistically through the Google products they use every day and equipping healthcare teams with tools and solutions that help them improve care.

Throughout the conference, leaders from Google Health will share more about the work we’re doing and the partnerships needed across the health industry to improve health outcomes.

Meeting people in their everyday moments and empowering them to be healthier

People are increasingly turning to technology to manage their daily health and wellbeing — from using wearables and apps to track fitness goals, to researching conditions and building community around those with similar health experiences. At Google, we’re working to connect people with accurate, timely and actionable information and tools that can help them manage their health and achieve their goals.

On Monday, Dr. Garth Graham, who leads healthcare and public health partnerships for YouTube, will join the panel “Impactful Health Information Sharing” to discuss video as a powerful medium to connect people with engaging and high-quality health information. YouTube has been working closely with organizations, like the American College of Physicians, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mass General Brigham, to increase authoritative video content.

On Tuesday, Fitbit’s Dr. John Moore will join a panel on “The Next Generation of Health Consumers” focusing on how tools and technologies can help people take charge of their health and wellness between doctors’ visits — especially for younger generations. Regardless of age, there’s a huge opportunity for products like Fitbit to deliver daily, actionable insights into issues that can have a huge impact on overall health, like fitness, stress and sleep.

Helping health systems unlock the potential of healthcare data

Across Google Health, we’re building solutions and tools to help unlock the potential of healthcare data and transform care delivery. Care Studio, for example, helps clinicians at the point of care by bringing together patient information from different EHR systems into an integrated view. We’ve been piloting this tool at select hospital sites in the U.S. and soon clinicians in the pilot will have access to the Care Studio Mobile app so they can quickly access the critical patient information they need, wherever they are — whether that’s bedside, at clinic or in a hospital corridor.

In addition to Care Studio, we’re developing solutions that will bring greater interoperability to healthcare data, helping organizations deliver better care. Hear more from Aashima Gupta, Google Cloud’s global head of healthcare solutions, at HLTH in two sessions. On Monday, October 18, Aashima will discuss how digital strategies can reboot healthcare operations, and on Tuesday, October 19 she will join the panel “Turning of the Data Tides” to discuss different approaches to data interoperability and patient access to health records.

Building for everyone

Where people live, work and learn can greatly impact their experience with health. Behind many of our products and initiatives are industry experts and leaders who are making sure we build for everyone, and create an inclusive environment for that work to take place. During the Women at HLTH Luncheon on Tuesday, Dr. Ivor Horn, our Director of Health Equity, will share her career journey rooted in advocacy, entrepreneurship and activism.

From our early days as a company, Google has sought to improve the lives of as many people as possible. Helping people live healthier lives is one of the most impactful ways we can do that. It will take more than a single feature, product or initiative to improve health outcomes for everyone. If we work together across the healthcare industry and embed health into all our work, we can make the greatest impact.

For more information about speakers at HLTH, check out the full agenda.