Eric Schmidt’s message to healthcare providers: Get your data in the cloud

Former Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt told HIMSS18 attendees that hospitals need to store their data in the cloud. (Evan Sweeney)

LAS VEGAS—The former executive chairman of Alphabet has a message for healthcare providers: Move your data to the cloud. And fast.

Eric Schmidt, now a technical adviser for Google’s parent company, urged providers during his keynote address at HIMSS18 to ditch their data warehouses and let technology companies take on the task of data storage. He said cloud computing is safer and more effective than for providers to invest the time, money and effort building their own data warehouses.

Schmidt insisted that he didn’t care whether hospitals used Google’s cloud storage or one of its competitors’. Providers should be more worried about how to improve care for patients than where to store data.

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During his speech and subsequent Q&A with HIMSS CEO Hal Wolf, Schmidt also touched on the predictive benefits of AI and the need for a “killer app” that can drive the industry forward. While that app isn't here yet, he's confident that the groundwork that went into EHR adoption will set the stage for innovation in healthcare, particularly when it comes to analytics and machine learning. 

“We need to help automate and make clinicians even more productive,” he said.

Schmidt briefly reflected on Google’s initial attempt to harness medical data. Now, with electronic access to medical records, plus FHIR standards to build application programming interfaces, startups have a way to pull out data that can enhance healthcare predictions.

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But he also argued that data would increasingly come from outside the EHR, from smartphones and wearables, to provide a complete picture of patient health.

And while he criticized the healthcare industry for being a late adopter of technology, he also acknowledged inherent barriers within the industry. At times he struck an optimistic tone, particularly when discussing the "unimaginable" impact of AI and clinical decision support that he believes will make a bigger mark on healthcare in the years to come.

“We’re closer than you think we are,” he said.