Alphabet's life sciences group Verily is signing on big partners as it moves into one of the fastest-growing areas of the health industry.
On Thursday, the company announced it's working with the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs health-care system and Atrius Health, a nonprofit health-care organization in eastern Massachusetts. Both groups are focused on improving outcomes for patients and keeping them from getting expensive and unnecessary care, falling in line with recent federal reforms.
The so-called population health market is large and crowded, but it's an area where Verily has long had a rumored interest. Many health systems are experimenting with technology to advance their efforts, including using sensors that can be placed in a patient's home to track things like blood pressure and weight increases, which could be signs of more serious health problems.
With the Palo Alto VA, the plan is to focus on ways to improve care and outcomes for patients who are getting knee replacements, those who are undergoing alcohol withdrawal, and those who have suffered heart attacks.
"The VA project is really about how we can optimize patients' care and ensure they have the best outcomes at the lowest cost," said Vivian Lee, Verily's president of health platforms and a former hospital executive. Lee didn't say whether Google's hardware and sensors, like health-monitoring wearable devices and smart speakers, would be involved with these partnerships in the future.
Thomas J. Fitzgerald III, the VA's director, said in a statement that the initiative is part of a broader move to bring "cutting-edge innovation and technology to the VA." If the Palo Alto project works, there's the potential to identify new guidelines that would be used by other VA hospital sites, Fitzgerald said.
For Atrius, Verily is looking to analyze patient health information to better understand the interventions that might work for heart failure patients. The goal is to help doctors and nurses intervene earlier and to keep patients out of the emergency room, where costs skyrocket.
Joe Kimura, chief medical officer at Atrius, said the organization opted to work with Verily because determining when heart failure patients need to be seen is a major challenge.
"We're a bunch of doctors and nurses trying our best," he said. While Atrius has access to high-quality cardiology, primary care, and patient data, "piecing these things together in a timely way is one of the biggest challenges, as well as coordinating operations," he said.
Kimura said there's a lot to learn from working with Verily.
"I'm a big enthusiast for technology," he said. "But I also need to see evidence in how it generates value."