Google says health projects will continue—even if Google Health won’t

Google is unwinding its three-year-old Google Health division as it reorganizes health projects and teams across the company.

Alphabet’s Google created the Google Health division in 2018, shortly after announcing Dr. David Feinberg, then CEO of Geisinger Health, would join the company as a vice president. Feinberg, who was tapped to become CEO of Cerner this week, was charged with bringing Google’s health efforts under a single umbrella.

On the heels of Feinberg’s departure, Google will dismantle Google Health and distribute its projects across other areas of the Mountain View, California-based company, according to an internal memo obtained by Insider. Health-related teams will become part of the company’s research, search and device divisions.

“Google deeply believes in the power of technology to improve health and wellness and we have increased our health investments across the company,” a Google spokesperson wrote in an email. “Today, health is a growing, company-wide effort and the Google Health name will continue and encompass our projects that share the common purpose to improve global health outcomes.”

The demise of Google Health feels like “deja vu,” said Paddy Padmanabhan, CEO of Damo Consulting.

Google’s first foray into healthcare—a personal health record service also called Google Health—shuttered in 2012 after four years.

“This is not unusual,” said Dr. Christopher Longhurst, chief information officer at UC San Diego Health, noting other tech giants have pushed into healthcare, only to walk back their investments a few years later. “Healthcare is really difficult to disrupt.”

Longhurst in a tweet pointed out Google also shuttered its initial Google Health project after just a few years.

The original Google Health was similar to Microsoft Corp.’s HealthVault, which operated from 2007 to 2019.

“I hope that we’ll see some continued investment in the healthcare space,” Longhurst said of Google. “But I think it may be more difficult without a centralized healthcare source.”

Google has been reorganizing since at least June, when the company started shifting Google Health teams to Fitbit and search. Fitbit, which Google acquired in January, is part of the company’s devices and services business. Google’s YouTube also unveiled its own health team earlier this year.

While Google Health will no longer exist as a standalone entity within Google, all of the company’s health efforts will continue, according to a Google spokesperson. Most of the teams within Google Health will remain the same and will be situated under Google’s research division. There will be no layoffs, the spokesperson said.

Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Google’s chief health officer who leads a team focused on regulatory and compliance matters, will now report to chief legal officer Kent Walker. Google hired DeSalvo and other high-profile health executives when it established Google Health, including former officials from HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the Food and Drug Administration.

The Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minnesota, will maintain its cloud storage and innovation arrangement with Google, a spokesperson for the health system wrote in an email. Over the past two years, the Mayo Clinic established a clinical data analytics platform on Google’s cloud platform and began a joint research project to study whether artificial intelligence can automate aspects of radiation therapy planning.

Google parent Alphabet’s health efforts spanned multiple areas, including cloud deals with various health systems and Onduo, a virtual care company focused on chronic conditions and housed within Alphabet’s Verily life sciences arm.

Amazon and Microsoft are also making forays into the health business and have healthcare-specific arms within their cloud divisions, but not for the company as a whole.

“These tech firms don’t operate in a vertically focused manner,” Padmanabhan said. Placing health teams within other units that can tailor tools and service to the healthcare industry is preferable to consolidating healthcare activities into a single division, he said.

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