Google turns 20: Here are 7 ways it's changing healthcare

It's been two decades since Google launched on Sept. 4, 1998.

Since then, the company has become prolific in the tech space. Google has eight products with more than 1 billion users — including Google Search and, most recently, Google Drive — and its parent company, Alphabet, consistently ranks as one of the top companies where people want to work, according to data from LinkedIn.

While Google might be best known for its search engine — which fields more than twice as many search queries as its competitors, according to a recent market research report — the tech giant has also been extending its reach into the healthcare sector in recent years.

Here are seven ways Google is tackling healthcare today:

1. HIPAA compliance. A significant way Google has entered the hospital space is by building out its business tools to support healthcare workloads. The company has ramped up its HIPAA-compliant services on the Google Cloud Platform and G Suite, a package of Google's most popular cloud-based services for businesses, such as Gmail and Google Drive. Earlier this year, Lahey Health in Burlington, Mass., became Google's largest healthcare partner after completing a systemwide go-live on G Suite.

2. Online search. An estimated 5 percent of Google searches relate to medical questions. To address the potential for misinformation, Google released  "health cards," the blue panels a user now finds on the right side of their screen after searching for a medical condition, in 2015. The cards, which Google developed with physicians from Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, detail prevention, symptom and treatment information for various diseases, along with data on how common the condition is.

3. Clinical documentation. Physicians often voice frustration with EHRs, arguing the technology turns them into "data-entry clerks" who don't have adequate time for face-to-face patient care. Google has researched a few ideas to address this issue, from developing specialized speech recognition tools for medical transcription to creating artificial intelligence models that predict content that physicians may want to add to their patient notes. All of these projects are still in a pilot phase.

4. AI. Google's research division, Google AI, has tackled multiple healthcare projects in recent years, investigating how predictive analytics can reduce hospital readmissions and helping pathologists detect breast cancer from medical images using AI algorithms. In one of its most recent research projects, Google developed an AI algorithm that may be able to predict a patient's risk of heart attack or stroke using only photographs of the interior lining of the individual's eye.

5. Genomics research. Google Genomics, which runs on Google Cloud, enables hospitals, universities and other organizations working with life sciences data to store, process and share petabytes — one petabyte comprises 1 million gigabytes — of genomic information. In 2016, Stanford Medicine in California unveiled plans to launch its clinical genomics service on Google Genomics as part of an effort to improve preventive treatment for patients with cancer and rare genetic diseases.

6. APIs. Google acquired Apigee, a company that helps businesses manage application programming interfaces, for $625 million in 2016. Today the company is housed under Google Cloud, where it offers APIs for a range of business lines, including healthcare: the Apigee Health APIx, for example, allows providers and payers to share data using a popular open data-sharing standard called Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, better known as FHIR.

7. Consumer health. Google released its activity tracking app, dubbed Google Fit, in 2014. The app allows users to track their steps and heart rate; however, unlike many competitors, Google has said it doesn't want to focus on promoting rigorous exercise. Instead, it wants Google Fit to encourage users who struggle with regular exercise to integrate small lifestyle changes — such as taking the stairs — which the company developed with the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization.

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