For years, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) has let its businesses build out their own healthcare solutions without imposing an overarching healthcare strategy. As a result, the company now has no less than six different businesses pursuing healthcare initiatives without a unifying objective.

  1. Verily — Alphabet’s primary healthcare business — is a research organization that spun out of Google X labs.
  2. Calico is a biotech business focused on anti-aging research.
  3. DeepMind, Alphabet’s UK-based AI business, has been building healthcare products since its acquisition.
  4. Google Fit is building wearables and health-focused Android apps.
  5. Nest is leading the company’s connected home efforts, which have a digital health component.
  6. Google Cloud has launched several healthcare offerings in recent years.

Until now, Alphabet’s healthcare ambitions were leaderless. However, the threat of Amazon making an unchallenged land grab in the healthcare market has left the company with little choice but to organize a response.

Alphabet Hosts Internal Healthcare Conference

On November 7, Alphabet gathered healthcare staff from across its businesses for a two-day conference at its main campus. During the conference, the company announced that Geisinger’s CEO David Feinberg, M.D., was coming to Alphabet to create a unifying healthcare strategy. The first clue as to how Feinberg might unify Google’s fractured healthcare strategy came this week, as the company announced that it would be absorbing London-based DeepMind’s healthcare products. DeepMind has been running as an independent business since it was acquired in 2014. Google has decided to absorb responsibility for DeepMind’s tools so that it can scale them for commercial use and let the DeepMind team return to researching AI.

Why It Matters

Google is a seasoned industry disruptor. It is no stranger to healthcare, but its past is checkered with failures. Google Health was one of the first patient portals in the US, but it was born before its time and shut down in 2011 due to a lack of consumer interest. Google X has explored many exciting medical breakthroughs, including glucometer contact lenses, but thus far none have made it to market. Despite the setbacks, the company has spent years hiring a cadre of elite healthcare leaders and is now shifting its focus squarely on the industry. Healthcare organizations need to start thinking of Google as a threat equal to Amazon because:

  • Google has a star-studded healthcare team. Feinberg joins a cadre of healthcare elites already at Alphabet, including former Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, who left his position last July to work in Google Cloud’s healthcare division, and legendary geneticist Andrew Conrad, who is leading the Verily business.
  • Google is a global AI innovation leader. Google is creating some of the most compelling healthcare AI use cases. DeepMind is building tools that scrub EHR data to, for example, identify kidney disease earlier than current screening tools can. Google’s “Augmented Reality Microscope” uses AI to help pathologists spot cancer cells in tumor biopsies. Google’s Seeing Potential program is using AI to interpret retinal scans to diagnose diabetic retinopathy faster.

The US healthcare industry has invested billions on technology solutions in the past decade, but those solutions have largely failed to impact the cost or quality of care being delivered. If Alphabet’s new healthcare vertical can create solutions that do a better job of tackling these problems, they will be met with strong demand from the market.