How Google Cloud's health care advisor thinks data and machine learning can transform health care, without privacy risks

Key Points
  • Dr. Toby Cosgrove is the former CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, and has now an executive advisor to Google's Cloud Health Care and Life Sciences.
  • "There's an enormous amount of data and it's a problem for us to keep track of and that's why I think the cloud is going to come in," he told CNBC recently.
  • "As the data goes to the cloud all the major cloud providers have come to an agreement that they will share unidentified information," he added.
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New Year, New You

Earlier this year, Toby Cosgrove became an executive advisor to the Google Cloud health care team after a long and distinguished tenure at the Cleveland Clinic. He's taking some of the lessons learned at the latter to help his new employer effect big changes to health care.

He explained to CNBC that there was a tremendous opportunity when it comes to storing, accessing and analyzing data.

"As you look at health care, we have got a problem and a curse in the fact that we have an explosion in the amount of knowledge there is in health care. For example, there are 5,800 medical journals that are turning out 800,000 articles a year," Cosgrove told CNBC's "On the Money" recently.

"There's an enormous amount of data and it's a problem for us to keep track of and that's why I think the cloud is going to come in," he added. "As the data goes to the cloud all the major cloud providers have come to an agreement that they will share unidentified information."

This means that doctors and researchers will be able to dig deeply to find trends, and solve problems without risking someone's privacy.

"So now you can have huge data sets that you can begin to analyze, and now that's where AI and machine learning comes in," Cosgrove told CNBC.

He said this can potentially help in ways such as prescribing the right hypertensive medication, which varies from person to person, by looking at how a certain dosage affects a large number of people with similar characteristics.

He also believes that this will cut down time for drug trials, and bring medicines to the market more rapidly.

As for what's ahead for 2019, Cosgrove said telehealth technology will become more ubiquitous. While the technology already exists, he says many people don't know about it. Telehealth technology connects patients to health care services through videoconferencing, remote monitoring, and electronic consults.

For instance, instead of going to a doctor's physical office, a patient can video-conference a doctor through their cellphone or tablet. This saves a trip to the doctor's office and saves time getting the medicine prescribed and sent to the pharmacy.

He said it's a huge benefit for people who don't live near a doctor or specialist, or for folks who need constant monitoring without having to stay in a hospital.

"Kaiser is seeing over 50 percent of their patients distantly," said Dr. Cosgrove.

Keeping that new year's resolution
Toby Cosgrove
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Getting in shape is no easy task, but it's crucial for your health. It's also critical for the companies that are subsidizing your health care costs.

So what's the best way to get healthy and stick with it? Cosgrove suggested that "you need to have a partner to do these things with, and you need to share back and forth between the two, and you need to set a reasonable goal." 

Some companies offer incentives for employees to get healthy. Cosgrove said that when he was running the Cleveland Clinic, the hospital system implemented strategies that made an enormous difference.

According to Cosgrove, Cleveland Clinic's rate of health care costs was going up 7.5 percent a year ten years ago. The physician said initially, there was pushback on these policies.

Eventually, people started seeing results and got on board. He stated his employees lost an average of 5 lbs per person, and saw a 20 percent reduction in sick days.

"We changed the food, we gave people incentives to exercise, we gave them incentives to stay healthy," he said. 

"Over the last several years our inflation rate of our health care costs has been flat," Cosgrove added. "It probably saved us over $600 million dollars in costs for looking after our employees, and it reduced the cost for the employees for their co-pays for their health."

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Key Points
  • The worlds of health and tech are converging -- and Toby Cosgrove is at the center of that. 
  • I spoke with Cosgrove at the Rock Health Summit last month about his new job as a health care advisor to Google Cloud. 
  • We talked about everything from what he thinks will be the next "killer app" in health care to whether he regrets meeting with former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes.