Former Google CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt shares his vision for the medical visit of the future

Eric Schmidt, PhD, former Google CEO and former executive chairman of Google's parent company Alphabet, laid out a roadmap for bringing artificial intelligence into patient care during an opening keynote presentation March 5 at the HIMSS Annual Conference & Exhibition in Las Vegas.

To set the stage for his vision, Dr. Schmidt described a typical medical visit, with one addition — a microphone and speaker in the physician's office, hooked up to a virtual assistant. He dubbed the imagined virtual assistant "Dr. Liz," in honor of Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, the first woman to receive a U.S. medical degree in 1849.

"What does Dr. Liz do?" Dr. Schmidt asked the audience. "She listens to the conversation [between the physician and the patient], disambiguates the voices, follows the consultation, gives suggestions to the physician in his or her earpiece, transcribes the situation … and then she fills out and navigates the EHR."

Although only an idea right now, Dr. Schmidt forecasted a technology similar to Dr. Liz will exist in hospitals within the next decade.

"Everything I just described is buildable today or in the next few years," he said. "All it takes is for all of us, literally every person in this room, to figure out how to build it."

Dr. Schmidt, who stepped down from his role as Alphabet's executive chairman earlier this year, continues his involvement with the company as a technical advisor. His discussion on building a healthier future through AI technologies marked his second time speaking at HIMSS, following a 2008 keynote given during his decade-long tenure as Google's CEO.

Today, Dr. Schmidt sits on the board of trustees for Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic and on the board of directors for Cambridge, Mass.-based Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

For Dr. Schmidt, the first step to building a product in the image of Dr. Liz is a shift to the cloud. He highlighted the cloud as a secure, HIPAA-compliant environment for hospitals to store patient data and host applications.

"Run to the cloud. Don't stop, don't walk, don't think about it," he said. "I don't want you repeating infrastructure work that we're doing. I want you to focus on the innovation to achieve the vision that I outlined."

Next, Dr. Schmidt encouraged health IT leaders to invest in clinical data warehouses to store information from a variety of sources, including patient histories, medical images and remote monitoring solutions. With deep learning and reinforcement learning — two advanced types of AI — organizations will be able to analyze this data to draw out predictive insights.

As an example, Dr. Schmidt shared findings from a recent study Google Research published in Nature Biomedical Engineering. For the study, the research team developed an AI algorithm that analyzed retinal fundus images — photographs of the interior lining of the eye — to predict a patient's risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

Under Dr. Schmidt's vision, Dr. Liz would be able to access these insights to recommend personalized patient care plans.

"I will tell you right upfront: This is really hard; it's really humbling; it's really complicated," Dr. Schmidt said of the push to develop innovative software. "But if we all work together, we can really save lives at a scale that is unimaginable, because of the impact of these technologies."

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