Will Google become your most important health care provider? A recent announcement may aspire to that possibility. At the March 2022 conference of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Google announced a partnership with MEDITECH, a giant in the field of electronic health records (EHRs). If this deal pans out, Google will embed its clinical software technology into MEDITECH’s EHRs.
It is difficult to name any company in world history that has had a greater impact on human society than Google. One other possibility might be the Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602, dissolved in 1799, and very likely the largest company in history, even by comparison with today’s great corporations. But that company never had the intimate reach into the daily lives of humanity that Google extends today.
Google is an integral part of daily life in virtually every city, town and village on earth. Founded a mere 23 years ago, it revolutionized the business of collecting, sorting, organizing and interpreting data. But moreover, Google’s genius lay in its simple, friendly, intuitive user interfaces that enabled ordinary people around the world to make good use of the largest mass of information ever assembled.
In many ways, however, the field of medicine has lagged far behind the rest of human knowledge in this data revolution. In an instant, using Google, a physician can learn the current temperature in Bengaluru, India; details on every human who has traveled in space; and the names of and relationships between all 400,000 or so plant species on earth. But the same doctor may not be able to pull up the vaccination and surgical records or family history of the patient sitting in front of him. That shortcoming costs lives every day.
We and our colleague, Lyle Berkowitz, wrote on the possibilities of EHRs in our recent paper, “Virtual Health in a Post–COVID World: Optimizing Regulation, Reimbursement, and Regularity.” A sharp disconnect divides their promise from their present-day reality. The EHR ought to be a central component of the doctor-patient relationship — a powerful tool that simplifies and amplifies the doctor’s ability to preserve and improve the patient’s health. Instead, physicians today often view EHRs as expensive, time-consuming, useless contrivances that serve the interests of insurers and governments more than they do doctors and patients.
MEDITECH is one of the leading EHR companies providing information technology to hospitals and clinics in the United States. Unfortunately, doctors using their EHRs (and those of other companies) can find the experience tedious and fatiguing, with bare-bones graphics and drop-down boxes for inputting data — as intuitive and as entertaining as completing a tax return. The daily struggle with unfriendly EHR systems is a major source of burnout for working providers, leading many to retire early in distaste.
MEDITECH is aware of its reputation among clinicians and has struck its deal with Google in order to make its user interface more seamless and intuitive. The solution discussed is to integrate MEDITECH EHRs with Google’s Care Studio, which improves clinical workflows by applying Google’s data-gathering and data-presentation strengths. The idea would be to combine information from various healthcare records associated with a particular patient and then pooling pertinent data for easy review and analysis.
Care Studio technology helps overcome the data silos in large, unintegrated, proprietary healthcare systems. Critical data do not move seamlessly with the patient when they change clinics or hospitals. Present-day EHRs suffer from a series of pathologies. “Note bloat” refers to the low-quality, agonizingly duplicitous data entered into a patient’s EHR by repeated copy-and-paste actions. EHR templates hide data from providers, making clinical decision-making difficult and leading to repetitive tests. Why troll through 100-plus small-font pages when you can just start the workup over again?
Imagine a world where your doctor can research your medical history and needs as effectively as she can seek information on weather, space travel and botany. (Taking care to add in data privacy controls, of course.) Time will tell, but Google’s search engine technology could help overcome all of that — doing the heavy lifting of data-gathering and saving providers time and energy. If successful, this would be a game changer.