The future of a truly connected, more efficient and effective, healthcare system, one that is a true learning system, is eminently possible, and the technology is available to make it happen—but moving forward will require healthcare leaders to act on certain priorities, Eric Schmidt told a capacity audience of healthcare IT leaders on Monday afternoon. Schmidt spoke to HIT leaders in the 8,770-person-capacity Palazzo Ballroom at the Sands Convention Center on Monday afternoon, during his opening keynote address, at HIMSS18, the annual conference of the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, which, it was announced, had drawn more than 43,000 attendees to the conference.
Schmidt, best known as the executive chairman of Google from 2001 to 2017, and of Alphabet Inc. (Google’s parent company) from 2015 until December 2017, outlined his vision of that future for his audience of healthcare IT leaders. He began by asking audience members to imagine a future in which a physician would engage in a patient visit, assisted by a form of technology--a virtual assistant--that would “listen to the conversation, provide [clinical decision support] advice in his or her ear, and fill out the transcript [the clinical documentation of the visit] for the doctor.” That technology would be unobtrusive, but would relieve physicians of all the hours of documentation they do every day, while also providing the data needed to fuel population health management and other key goals of healthcare leaders.
“This technology—everything I just described—is buildable today or in the next few years,” Schmidt told his audience. “All it takes is all of us, everyone in this room—to figure out how to build it. I’m going to give you a roadmap,” he added. “I’m going to start with, get to the cloud, run to the cloud. Take an airplane, fly to the cloud. Most of you sit in data centers that work on proprietary logic. We now have cloud technology available, from Google and others, that’s much safer than your data center, much more compliant than your data center.” Why aren’t patient care organizations moving more rapidly to the cloud? He asked. “The cloud is more secure. And I don’t want you repeating the infrastructure work we’re doing, but rather to focus instead on the innovation.”
Schmidt continued, “At the same time, a revolution is taking place in my industry. Scale changes the rules, changes everything.” The key building blocks of the healthcare computing of the future? “The cloud. Neural networks and reinforcement learning. The explosion of networks. If you take data, and feed it into auto machine learning, it will automatically feed you information,” he said. “That’s how fast this is working. In terms of machine learning, which is what the primary progress in the next few years will be about. Where does it apply?” Diagnostics, genomics, and “medical imaging, which is largely a solved problem.” And when healthcare leaders put together the following elements—“data plus cloud, plus powerful networks, plus deep learning and reinforcement learning”—that combination of technologies will fuel advances in diagnosis and treatment, as well as population health management, that sound futuristic now, but that will change healthcare within a decade, he predicted.
Google’s announcement around healthcare and cloud
Of course, Schmidt’s speech was not given in a vacuum. Indeed, Monday morning, in a blog posted Monday morning, Gregory J. Moore, M.D., Ph.D., vice president of healthcare at Google Cloud, wrote, “Google Cloud’s goal for healthcare is very much a reflection of Google’s overall mission: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Applying this mission to healthcare means using open standards to help enable data sharing and interactive collaboration, while also providing a secure platform. Just imagine if all healthcare providers could easily, securely and instantaneously collaborate while caring for you. Ultimately, we hope that better flow of data will inspire new discoveries with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), leading to insights that improve patient outcomes. This week at HIMSS,” Moore wrote, “we’re showcasing our progress toward serving this mission through our Google Cloud Platform (GCP), G Suite and Chrome solutions, our work with customers and partners, and our focus on compliance and security. We’ve recently launched the new Cloud Healthcare API, which addresses the significant interoperability challenges in healthcare data. The new API provides a robust, scalable infrastructure solution to ingest and manage key healthcare data types—including HL7, FHIR and DICOM—and lets our customers use that data for analytics and machine learning in the cloud,” Moore wrote.
Meanwhile, Schmidt told his audience on Monday afternoon, “The really powerful stuff, right at the edge of what I do, is prediction. It’s one thing to be able to classify; it’s another thing to predict the next step in an outcome. That’s what we want: it allows clinicians to predict things. We could predict outcomes in the ER, for example, up to 18 to 24 hours in advance of the current systems, because of the deep analysis available. Shakespeare said, ‘We defy auguries, that we can’t predict our own fates.’ But machines can,” he argued. “As I age, I want the computer to make sure I have a long and healthy life.”
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