Highmark Health inks 6-year strategic partnership with Google Cloud to tap AI, analytics technologies

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Microsoft, Google and Amazon Web Services are all pushing deeper into healthcare in a battle to provide cloud computing and data storage technology to hospitals and payers. (achinthamb/Shutterstock)

Highmark Health and Google Cloud announced a six-year strategic partnership to use cloud, analytics and artificial intelligence technologies to power the organization's digital health initiatives.

Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health plans to use Google Cloud's technology muscle to be the innovation engine behind its Living Health model, which is designed to provide a more coordinated, personalized, technology-enabled experience for patients, the organization said.

One of the country's largest insurers, Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health also is the parent company of Allegheny Health Network, an integrated delivery network comprised of 13 hospitals, more than 2,500 affiliated physicians and ambulatory surgery centers.

Highmark and its subsidiaries and affiliates provide health insurance to more than 5.6 million members in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.

Through its Living Health model, Highmark Health is focused on "re-engineering the healthcare delivery model." It's designed to free clinicians from time-consuming administrative tasks while providing them with timely data and actionable information about each patient.

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"Living Health is not just focused on improving the patient-clinician relationship, it is about changing the way health care delivery operates, " the health organization said.

Approximately 125 new jobs will be created at Highmark Health to support the development of the digital platform, specifically in the areas of application development, cloud-based computing architectures, analytics and user experience design, Highmark Health said.

As part of the collaboration, Highmark Health will build out its Living Health Dynamic Platform on Google Cloud. The organization plan to use Google Cloud’s advanced analytic and AI capabilities to "supercharge" its existing clinical and technology capabilities, the organization said.

Highmark Health also will use Google Cloud’s healthcare-specific solutions, including the Google Cloud Healthcare API, to enable rapid innovation and interoperability.

With its new Living Health Dynamic Platform, Highmark Health aims to move care and disease management of clinical conditions beyond traditional care settings to include a more digital healthcare experience. By providing the insights needed to enable timely interventions, people will be empowered to proactively manage their health.

For example, the use of timely and individual patient data could drive proactive intervention to achieve better health outcomes, and patients could benefit from digital disease management, easily accessible, personalized health plans and centralized scheduling and management of care teams, Highmark Health said.

"Instead of asking people to figure out the health system, or multiple systems, we have asked how the entire health experience should be re-engineered with them at the center," said Karen Hanlon, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Highmark Health, in a statement.

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"In order to deliver on the promise of Living Health, we had to change our organization by breaking down old paradigms and barriers, leveraging resources across our enterprise and bringing a differentiated approach to health care, which includes the development of a powerful technology platform to turbo-charge the model," she said.

After rigorous evaluation and discussions with several leading technology companies, Google Cloud emerged as the most innovative and dynamic collaborator in terms of talent, technology and resources, according to Hanlon.

“Separately, our companies are already disrupting the traditional health care industry, but when you combine Highmark Health’s long history as an industry leader with Google Cloud’s technology and health expertise, the result is a collaboration that will give individuals and clinicians the technology platform and solutions that remove frustration and obstacles and make a remarkable health experience not only possible but expected," she said.

The traditional healthcare system is too fragmented and for the most part reactive, said Tony Farah, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical and clinical transformation officer of Highmark Health.

"The Living Health model takes the information and preferences that a person provides us, applies the analytics developed with Google Cloud, and creates a proactive, dynamic, and readily accessible health plan and support team that fits an individual’s unique needs," he said.

Andrew Moore, vice president of industry solutions at Google Cloud, said the collaboration combines Highmark Health’s deep understanding of patient behavior and clinical best practices with Google Cloud’s technology capabilities, including artificial intelligence and machine learning expertise.

Partnerships between health systems and tech companies are becoming fairly common as the healthcare industry pushes forward to use data analytics and machine learning to make better use of healthcare data.

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Microsoft, Google and Amazon Web Services are all pushing deeper into healthcare in a battle to provide cloud computing and data storage technology to hospitals and payers.

But questions have been raised about the use of patient data in these healthcare-tech partnerships. A collaboration between Google and Ascension Health announced last November has drawn close scrutiny.

The tech giant's partnership with Ascension has sparked a federal inquiry and criticism from patients and lawmakers. The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services is investigating the partnership to ensure it complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accessibility Act.

Highmark Health said in a press release that its new cloud-based platform will be built on top of Google Cloud’s secure, reliable infrastructure and that "privacy and security will be a guiding principle."

Highmark Health said it will control access and use of its patient data using rigorous long-standing organizational privacy controls and governance.

The two organizations also will create a joint data ethics and privacy review board to ensure uses of data are consistent with prescribed ethical principles, guidance and customer expectations of privacy, the insurer said.