David Feinberg offers a peek behind the curtain at Google Health

LAS VEGAS—David Feinberg will admit that he's “not a tech guy.” 

So how did Google, one of the world’s most famous tech giants, convince him to leave the provider world behind and take the helm of its healthcare work? The company proved it was serious about health and could make a serious impact, he said. 

Feinberg, M.D., left his role as CEO of Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Health System in November to join Google. He said Monday in a presentation at the HLTH conference that he felt confident that in his new role he could treat Google users like he would his own patients. 

“Nine months into it, I'm actually certain that that is true and feel very confident what we’re providing is what I would want for my own patients or my own family,” he said. 

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Feinberg’s presentation offered a glimpse behind the curtain at Google’s healthcare work and served as an introduction to Google Health.  

He offered several areas where Google’s more complex technologies, such as artificial intelligence software, have paid dividends in the health space. After a visit to the U.K. clued the team into an app that was paying dividends for providers in identifying kidney failure, Feinberg said the team wanted to take that a step further. 

Using AI, Google was able to measure more than 600,000 risk factors for kidney failure in an individual patient and identify two days sooner that they would need dialysis, he said. 

Google’s tech wizards were also able to unearth a wealth of data about patients from an unexpected source: their eyes. Interns examining AI feedback were able to identify patients by their sex, predict their age and see their smoking history, he said, using retinal scans initially intended to identify diabetic conditions. 

Combined with other data sets, this knowledge can be used to identify risks for other conditions, he said. 

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Feinberg also noted that Google’s existing platforms, including its search engine, Maps and YouTube, are already deployed by consumers for health purposes. 

Google Search, for one, is the first place many patients go to learn about their conditions or to find more information about symptoms. The challenge, he said, is ensuring the data they see are the most accurate and valuable to them. 

Feinberg asked for the healthcare industry to assist Google in ensuring they provide information that patients need when they come to the search engine after a diagnosis.  

Google is also aiming to adapt its search function to potentially assist providers within their existing computer systems, where it can anticipate potential searches and help providers find information more quickly, he said. 

“We know what you’re thinking about the same way we do with Google Search in the rest of your life,” he said.