Google's health chief: Tech could be a key to unlocking equitable healthcare access

Karen DeSalvo, MD, practiced medicine for 20 years before entering the world of business to become Google's chief health officer. She sat down to discuss how she thinks technology can be used to improve accessibility to healthcare, reported Nov. 10. 

After Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, Dr. DeSalvo dropped her research at the Tulane University School of Medicine, realizing that she wanted to help the city recover and focus on fixing community and preventive health in the city. She then became the health commissioner of New Orleans. 

Her next role was with HHS serving as acting assistant secretary for health.

In December 2019, she became the chief health officer for Google. Given that she began before the pandemic, her day-to-day role involves ensuring employee safety and well-being. 

"It's also to help develop and provide tools to the public health community so they can do their jobs more effectively to support all of us," she said. 

Since she started her role, Google has worked on a variety of health technology projects. It developed Community Mobility Reports, which "monitored at the height of COVID if people were staying away from grocery stores, retail spaces, and workplaces, as stay-at-home orders were in place." It also developed a health equity tracker that gives the company insights into the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on communities of color. 

"We recognize the importance of technology and how it has the potential to significantly democratize access to quality care," she said.

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