Health tech is so old-fashioned that Google had to adapt its cloud service to work with fax machines

Key Points
  • Google Cloud is pitching the health sector, alongside rivals like Microsoft and Amazon.
  • One way it can stand out is to provide real value to the medical system.
  • And that's by understanding that medicine still relies on outdated technologies, like the fax machine.
This is a fax machine. Millennials, take note.
Fuse | Getty Images

Last year at the HIMSS health care conference, former Google CEO and chairman Eric Schmidt noted that health care is still in the "stone age," and is reliant on fax machines and pagers.

This week, at the same conference in Orlando, Google seems to have acknowledged that the medical world's stone age technology is here to stay for the foreseeable future. At the company's booth, attendees spotted a demo for a new health service that involves faxing medical information to Google Drive, the company's cloud storage service.

That way, physicians have "hassle free" access to the information when they need it, according to marketing materials at the booth.

A spokesperson for Google Cloud described the fax demo as a "prototype of the possibilities enabled by APIs and an open cloud platform." In other words, while the product isn't live yet, it's an indicator of what's to come from Google.

Google is competing with rivals Microsoft and Amazon to get its cloud service into the health care sector. One approach has involved standing out by pitching its advanced technology, like machine learning and artificial intelligence, which can be used to parse health data.

None of that is possible if health data isn't widely accessible. And these days, it's still common for medical information to be shared by fax, rather than in a computer-readable format.

There are a few reasons for that. For starters, there's tradition. Some older doctors are comfortable with these technologies and don't want to let them go. Faxes are also considered safe and secure under today's federal privacy laws for doctors to transmit medical records.

"Every hospital, no matter how small, has a fax machine, so it's the safest and easiest way to get the information you need," said Nate Gross, a physician and the co-founder of Doximity, a start-up that came up with a product called DocFax that lets doctors send faxes without a physical fax machine, told CNBC.

As a result, health care is the only industry that still relies on such outdated technology. (CNBC previously reported on the trend of millennial medical students not knowing what to do when asked to send a fax for the first time.)

Google appears to be acknowledging that it needs to meet health care customers where they're at.

And they're at the old-fashioned fax machine.

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