One can identify many reasons for why the healthcare industry seems ripe for disruption. Beyond the outdated tech and oft-times byzantine processes, organizations across different countries suffer from one main constraint: keeping the upward-set costs structure under control. In most developed countries, a consistently-aging population and dwindling budgets threaten to bankrupt systems dating back to post-WW2. While many struggle with this challenge, an agreed-upon low hanging fruit lies in streamlining the current workflows. It is worth noting that, while the media lend hype to the claims of the tech sector to : find the best treatments for cancer (e.g. IBM Watson) or customize treatments for each patient’s DNA (e.g. Human Longevity Inc.); the main players are not distracted by the fact that the most considerable gains are to be reaped from enhancing the very existing system we have today. In the words of Moos Suleyman, founder of DeepMind: “There is no other area where we invest so much money in technology and get so little back”.
Imagine a world where doctors and nurses can have tasks taken off their day-to-day through data analytics and automation. A scenario where scans, tests results, follow-ups and notes are not only automatized but also given something the healthcare world desperately lacks today: structure.
Enter DeepMind, Google’s digital brain arm. For its next challenge, DeepMind has boldly decided to move from games to healthcare. As Bloomberg stated recently, “while DeepMind’s research on Go may be years away from yielding practical applications, its health-care work is affecting people’s lives today through projects with the U.K.’s National Health Service”
Having built long-lasting partnership with UK healthcare organizations, DeepMind rolled out an app called Streams. Through its app, and by centralizing and analyzing patients’ data, DeepMind is able to provide healthcare providers with a sense of where patient’s condition is headed. For instance, data suggesting patient X is suffering from a deterioration, prompting preventive action. Furthermore, the hospitals where it is being tested stand to gain from fast-tracked triage. Indeed, all primary and “routine work” of reviewing tests and scans can be performed by an algorithm rather than a human, leaving doctors and nurses more time to focus on patients and more pressing matters. What’s more, DeepMind recently announced it is working on a digital ledger system – akin to blockchain technology – that would give NHS hospitals a tamper-proof audit trail of who has accessed patient data.
This might alleviate some of the pressures and concerns surrounding the whole initiative. As it stands, tech companies today are no longer seen as benign entities when it comes to handling critical data, let alone in the context of patient data. As Bloomberg stated: “DeepMind’s maiden voyage into the field has […] run smack into an iceberg of privacy and ethical concerns—and the resulting controversy has threatened to sink its ambitions of using AI to transform health care.” While Streams does not specifically use AI, it is a fair assumption that the Google arm is aiming for greater use of it in the future. The NHS-provided data is then seen as training ground for future healthcare-work intelligent algorithms.
As of today, who really benefits most from this deal lays in the eye of the beholder. Data does allow DeepMind – some would claim Google in general, though questionable from a legal standpoint – to improve its technical and commercial viability. The healthcare providers, on the other hand, enjoy seldom-encountered process-enhancing innovations whose costs are technically supported by DeepMind.
After a year-long investigation, U.K. regulators ruled that a London Hospital had illegally provided DeepMind access to 1.6m patient records going back 5 years. Although DeepMind itself was not directly impacted by this ruling, this begged the question of where its business model was headed? Are the regulators, the healthcare providers and the patients all on board with a tech company having access to health records? Tomorrow shall tell.
 : https://deepmind.com/research/alphago/
 : https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-28/alphabet-s-deepmind-is-trying-to-transform-health-care-but-should-an-ai-company-have-your-health-records
 : https://www.zdnet.com/article/googles-deepmind-and-the-nhs-a-glimpse-of-what-ai-means-for-the-future-of-healthcare/