Let’s say you’ve had a searing headache for the past few days. You become nervous and, like many people, you resort to Google. You start your search with “headache for a few days” and a flood of answers fills your screen. “When a headache won’t go away.” “Experiencing lasting headaches? Here’s what it could be.” “Uh oh, your headache could be more than just a headache.” Your mind begins to race and you either head to the emergency room or frantically call your doctor to get an appointment. Google has infiltrated our world for sure, but when it comes to our health, it is can be both a blessing and a curse.
One in 20 Google searches are related to health and according to a 2012 Pew Research Center Survey, 35% of Americans Google their symptoms. It seems as if everyone is about three websites away from deciding they have cancer or another condition. Even as far as we have come with improving health information out there, the problem with Google still remains. Now, as a doctor, I would say it is a dangerous game to attempt diagnosing yourself. It can lead to unnecessary stress, false information and a compulsive hypochondriac habit that that certainly will not bring you a real diagnosis.
But Googling your symptoms is only the beginning. No one can argue that Google increasingly plays a huge role in our health. Taking it even beyond that, Google is working to change every aspect of healthcare using the arsenal of information they’ve gathered about you and me since its inception. Some argue on the side of privacy violations, some experts believe it’s helping to spread education and promote prevention. Nevertheless, one cannot argue that these innovations have incredible potential, that is, if they actually work.
Here are ten of the innovations that could dramatically change, and arguably improve, healthcare.
A Computer System That Operates Similar to the Brain: In January 2014, Google acquired deep learning start-up, DeepMind. The plans around this partnership were quite secretive for some time, until recently, when they unveiled the Neural Turing Machine — a computer system that mimics the short-term memory of a human brain. Understanding the inner-workings of the brain continues to be one of the greatest challenges in neuroscience. The system learns as it stores memories and can later retrieve it for performing logical tasks. This neural network is based around the idea of creating a computer that simulates what happens in the human brain but making it more efficient.
Smart Contact Lens for Diabetic Patients: Google is partnering with global pharmaceutical company, Novartis and its Alcon eyewear division, to help diabetic patients manage their disease. The lens contains a low power microchip and hair-thin electronic circuit that measures blood sugar levels directly from tear fluid on the surface of the eyeball and transmits the data to a mobile device. Google’s 3D mobile technology is threaded throughout and they are aiming to improve the quality of life for those suffering from diabetes.
Unlocking the Secrets of Aging: Google recently created California-based company called Calico to focus on aging and age-related diseases. In September 2014, Calico announced $1.5 billion partnership with pharmaceutical company AbbVie to accelerate discovery, development and commercialization of age-related conditions such as neuro-degeneration (dementia, Alzheimer’s) and cancer.
Cancer and Heart Attack Detecting Pill: Google researchers are currently working to develop a nanoparticle pill that could identify certain types of cancers, heart attack and potentially other diseases earlier. Magnetic nanoparticles (less than one-thousandth the width of a red blood cell) would circulate through the blood to detect and report signs of cancer or an imminent heart attack. Taking it a step further, Google is also making synthetic skin, similar to human skin, to test the pill.
Genome Storage in the Cloud: We are all familiar with Google’s online storage services such as Google Drive. Well now, the company is extending this service to storing genomes in a quest to help hospitals and university laboratories store their client’ genomes in the cloud. They are calling this Google Genomics and charging $25 per year. Google will keep a copy of any genome in the cloud to eventually allow open access to millions of genomes and run efficient analyses.
Robotic Surgery Platform: As a surgeon who uses rotor technology, I am intrigued by Google’s plans to partner with Johnson & Johnson to create the next advanced robotic-assisted surgery platform. In the hands of Google’s semi-secret research team, Google X, this next platform could seek to expand real-time image analysis that would give surgeons better vision around the edges of nerves or tumors. With Google involved, this system will benefit from the significant amount of data they have gathered from extensive research and development in robotics. From self-driving cars, artificial intelligence and strong vision technologies stemmed from Google Glass, this system could prove to be quite revolutionary.
Google Glass for Doctors: Even though many believe Google Glass failed as a consumer product, it still may have many uses for healthcare providers. For those who do not know, Google Glass is a wearable device with an optical head-mounted display that shows information in a smartphone-like hands free way. I believe Google Glass has the potential to perform many operational tasks in healthcare in order to streamline complex processes such as gathering and updating patient data in real time. For example, Augmedix was an app developed for Google Glass and it automatically takes notes for doctors, allowing them to concentrate solely on the patient. It also could prove to aid in surgery and become a potential useful tool for surgeons, and other surgery team members in the operating room. For now, Google has temporarily tabled Glass, but who knows, the next time you visit your doctor, maybe he or she will have a new pair of specs.
Relevant Medical Facts in Search Results: Google most all health conditions like Type I Diabetes and you will be served a menu of information related to the condition through Google’s Knowledge Graph Panel found on the right side of search results. Everything from how many people per year are diagnosed to treatment options. Some even use graphics to display symptoms and treatments visually. The intention is to bring basic information related to your search that may lead to an easier search around the web or help you know which questions to ask your doctor. They disclose that this information is not intended to be medical advice but they did work with a team of medical doctors to carefully compile, curate and review the information. The hope is to empower the patient regarding their health decisions and educate around more common conditions.
Google Fit: Head on over to fit.google.com, sign in with your Gmail or Google account and you’ll join Google’s latest health service. Google Fit plans to collect and aggregate data from popular fitness trackers and health mobile apps, directly competing with Apple’s new Health Kit. Google intends to integrate this with a wearable device that measures data like steps or heart rate. Along with the Apple Watch, and other wearable technology, creating these types of health platforms for the masses has raised concerns over privacy and how best to process sensitive health data while also providing valuable feedback.
Making medical records shareable: At the TED2014 conference in Vancouver, Google co-founder Larry Page eluded to Google’s interest in making medical records public. Information sharing is threaded throughout tech in many different ways, but the idea of it being integrated into healthcare is a bit daunting, especially when we look at HIPPA violations. He commented on the records being available anonymously to research doctors and scientists “We’d save 100,000 lives this year. We’re not really thinking about the tremendous good which can come from people sharing information with the right people in the right ways,” said Page. Obviously, this comes with many privacy concerns; however, the potential data scientists could have access to, is quite astonishing and could potentially lead to better clinical studies around diseases that affect millions like heart disease, cancer and others.
Dr. David B. Samadi is the chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team and the chief medical correspondent for AM-970 in New York City. Visit Dr. Samadi’s blog at SamadiMD.com