Healthy Returns

Google rolls out a new tool to help health providers solve the medical record mess

Key Points
  • Google has a new tool to help health institutions pull together important data.
  • It is hoping to "nudge the industry forward" when it comes to the lack of health data that's compatible between companies.
  • Apple is also working to get consumers better access to their medical data.
Diane Greene, Google
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Google has already organized the world's search results. Now, it's moving on to medical information.

The company's cloud business has set its sights on helping customers aggregate medical data, whether it's labs, medical records or X-ray imaging. All of this information is currently scattered throughout the various hospitals and clinics where patients receive care, and is a huge pain for doctors, nurses and patients to access.

That leads to all sorts of duplicate tests and procedures, which is expensive. And it can create dangerous information gaps, such as if a health system can't easily access a medical record with a full rundown of a patient's allergies.

Google Cloud is trying to address through a new application programming interface or "API" that it says can ingest all of the important health-care data types. And it has lined up several hospital partners for its early access program, including Stanford School of Medicine.

"I see the impact that availability of data can have in medicine, and the need for it is urgent," said Greg Moore, Google Cloud's vice president of health care. Moore is a doctor with an informatics background who was recruited from Geisinger Health by Google cloud chief Diane Greene.

"Getting data to patients, caregivers and providers is key," he said. "And that's why we're so excited about it."

Google's cloud business is competing with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure in the multibillion-dollar health sector. Health care is particularly attractive to these companies as it's one of the few remaining industries that hasn't fully yet transitioned to the cloud.

Apple is also working on an effort to get health information to the people who need it most.

But Apple's approach is a bit different in that it puts patients in the center by giving them consent to request their records from their medical institution on the iPhone. Google is working through its industry partners.

This isn't the first time Google set its sights on health data.

It has tried to tackle the problem once before with Google Health, which shut down in 2011 for a variety of reasons (for one thing, a lot of people's medical information was still stored on paper). Since then, most doctors have now fully transitioned to digital systems.

But that doesn't mean that data is easy to transfer from one health system to another.

"We want to nudge the industry forward and provide our tool as a call to action," Moore said.