Digital Health

Pandemic Lessons Led to Google Health Shakeup

Google Health HQ
Image Credit: Google

The recent dismantling of Google Health following the departure of its chief, David Feinberg, MD, could easily have been interpreted as evidence that the company was retreating from healthcare.

To clear up any confusion, Google Chief Health Officer Karen DeSalvo, MD, spoke with Bloomberg about the search giant’s reorganization. She revealed that the changes reflect a shift in focus related to Google’s work during the pandemic, and that the company is in no way “retrenching on health.”

For Google, the pandemic was an unexpected crash course in health sector operations, expediting many of the lessons that could otherwise have taken years.

Dr. DeSalvo stated that the company’s work on services ranging from contact tracing to population mobility tracking played a large role in the decision to restructure its health unit.

  • Google’s old strategy revolved around consolidating the company’s wide ranging healthcare efforts, such as disease detection and clinical decision support, into a centralized product unit to be commercialized. Dr. Feinberg was hired in 2019 to lead the new division, Google Health, but his team members were disbanded into research and wearables units shortly after his departure.
  • Google’s new strategy is an effort to embed healthcare initiatives into its core products, such as Search and YouTube, rather than launching independent commercial services. This strategy is designed to have a wider influence on health by meeting consumers where they already are.

Industry Impact

With a majority of Google’s revenue coming from advertising, working with sensitive health data quickly attracts attention from regulators. One of Google Health’s early projects under Feinberg got particularly messy when a search tool created for the Ascension hospital network prompted a federal inquiry over data privacy concerns.

Although the Ascension search tool is still operational and secure, Dr. DeSalvo admits that the company must tread carefully when navigating the healthcare space, but believes that the reorganization will help to deliver superior medical care and human outcomes.

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