Published: October 06, 2017   Published by: PWeR, Inc

As we continue our series on Silicon Valley and Healthcare, we move to Mountain View, California; the headquarters of Alphabet, Inc. and its monster subsidiary, Google, Inc. Later in this series, we will discuss what we think is the coming battle between Google and Amazon in healthcare, and possibly in other industries.  

I don’t think many companies have had the impact that Google has had in our modern world. I was fascinated when I could search what was the emerging web, on Mosaic, one of the first search engines available. Then I moved on to Opera, and finally to that “loud” and sometimes obnoxious Yahoo!. How many of us remember those commercials? 

However, a new start-up emerged in the late ‘90s with a bit of a weird name, Google. They said their search algorithms were special. In 1999, I remember being asked whether I was going to switch from Yahoo to Google. To this day, I still remember my response, “Yahoo did everything that I wanted out of the Internet,” and I did not need a new search engine. Those words still haunt me today because I passed on buying Google at the IPO price. Every now and then, this experience reminds me I’m not as smart as I think. It was also nearly inconceivable, maybe to all those outside of Google, that Google would have such a dramatic impact in the 20 years ahead.

Recently, it was released by the media that Google’s parent has purchased a digital healthcare start-up. This start-up has created wellness screening tools using a smart phone. These applications harness the power of the smart phone technology like the ability to connect sensors, camera and various other features to screen a patient’s wellness.  

As with other companies in this space, it appears they have both a clinical [FDA approved], and a wellness product planned. This company is reported to be working on many devices using smart phone applications, one specified was to measure pulmonary function. This can be very valuable to patients with chronic lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, COPD, and many others. Sadly, I am very aware of these types of diseases as my father died because of the complications with COPD. 

We are also aware that Alphabet has a separate and expanding “healthcare and life sciences arm” called Verily. Media reports say that Verily has raised an additional $800 million from an outside Singapore investment company; clearly, it has big plans. Verily is doing research in disease detection, genetic mapping, and healthcare tracking wearables. In the latter example, it appears that they are creating a product that will need a prescription, requiring FDA approval. 

It is also noteworthy that many Silicon Valley companies are expanding into such industries as digital health, fueled separately by a record infusion of private capital into digital health. In the third quarter of 2017 alone, venture-capital firms have invested $2.5 billion (USD) into digital health. It appears to be on track for $9 or $10 billion (USD) total year investment in digital health (more on this in a future blog). This is a new record and we believe this revolution is just getting started. 

Without a change in processes that accumulates and analyzes the data, the physician’s time will be stretched to a breaking point. We believe that the technology we have today can and will save lives that cannot be saved today. We also believe that we are at the start of using technology to dramatically impact wellness and health, and possibly be as transformational as the inventions of antibiotics, anesthesia, and genetic coding. 

One of the things that we have learned over the last 25 years in healthcare is that the multitude of technology and demand for use of technology, including EHRs, has put tremendous demand on caregivers, doctor’s time and causes stress. 

The question that remains now is who is going to aggregate and analyze the data, and then interpret the relativity of all this data? Who is going to act on it seems obvious that the data will need to be aggregated and processed by computers, disseminated to family in some cases, and then to physicians where all cases are actionable. These physicians could then follow up, determine relevance, and treat the patients with more diagnostics, drugs, medical procedures, etc. 

The only caution I have in this process is that the computers can overwhelm human caregivers, and put additional pressure on underpaid and overworked providers. 

We will need new systems to go hand-in-hand with the providers and at the end, the final disposition is in the hands of the physicians, and is valuable only when documented in their EHRs. When Medicare comes in to review the files, they only go by what is in the chart, not by what is in a patient’s phone or wearable device. Therefore, all this information needs to be medically viable and must flow into the EHR quickly.

- Noel J. Guillama, President

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