Dr. Joseph J. Corkery, director, Product Management, Healthcare & Life Sciences at Google Cloud, discussed Google's moves into healthcare during the Enterprise Insights Series Event (in partnership with Google Cloud and Rock Health) earlier this week.

Google Cloud exec talks timing, regulation challenges and Google's gradual move into health

By Laura Lovett
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(Left to Right) CVS Chief Digital Officer Firdaus Bhathena, Google Cloud Head of Product for Health & Life Sciences Dr. Joseph Corkery, Iora Health Chief Growth Officer Sonia Millsom, and Oak HC/FT Partner Nancy Brown chat onstage at a recent event in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jonah Comstock)

When it comes to healthcare, Google is no longer just a tool for searching symptoms at 1 a.m. The tech giant is quickly making its mark in the health industry, from fitness apps to EHR patents, and all eyes are on how the company could be a disruptive force. So far the tech giant has already seen some challenges and successes.

While Google has made headlines in health news within the last few years, the company isn’t exactly brand new to the field. But some early efforts, like Google Health, didn't really pan out.

“Google made an initial effort in healthcare probably 10 years ago. I think one of the things that we learned in that time is it is possible to be too early,” Dr. Joseph Corkery, director, Product Management, Healthcare & Life Sciences at Google Cloud said during Rock Health's Enterprise Insights Series Event (in partnership with Google Cloud and Rock Health) earlier this week. “There are often times that the market is not ready for what you have to offer or your ability to engage in that is just not the right time or the right fit.”

In the early years, Google was forced to grapple with regulation and security questions. These efforts took time and energy to solve.

“When I joined Google, I was really excited to get the healthcare industry to come to the cloud. Really nobody was ready to come to the cloud at that time,” Corkery said. “There was a lot of fear about security and compliance. I spent the first two, two and a half years I was here at Google just diving deep into security, compliance and privacy issues and all the time thinking 'this is how I’m going to get to doing things in healthcare.' So, solving problems that were common to healthcare, finance and other industries — but realizing we can’t even have those conversations with healthcare industries until we have a deep dive into those [concerns].”

However, connected technologies have begun to take center stage and have opened up opportunities for the tech conglomerate.

“Really over the past five years there has been a rapid growing interest in healthcare improvement,” he said. “I joined Google almost five years ago, specifically to build healthcare solutions in the cloud. One of the things we are seeing is that with the advance in the ability to handle data at scale, the ability to really revolutionize what you are seeing in AI. There is a real opportunity to apply those to healthcare.”

While Corkery's work is focused on the cloud, during the panel moderator Nancy Brown, a partner at Oak HC/FT, pointed out that Google’s venture arm, called GV, has also made waves in the startup scene and can offer a unique point of view to young companies.  

“One of the things that people might not think about that Google brings to the table is management expertise,” Brown said. “So, for these young startups hand in hand with knowing about Google Cloud and knowing about the data business is all of the tools that are used to run Google, which I don’t think is an obvious asset that a company like Google brings to the table.”

But Corkery pointed out that it is no longer just management that Google can offer. The company has been quickly hiring more clinical staff that bring in new expertise.

“They bring a lot of interesting expertise in how to operate like Google and having the ability to connect with other individuals and experts at Google, he said.  “They also bring a lot of really interesting domain expertise in the healthcare and life sciences realm. There are a lot of physicians and life scientists in Google Ventures. When I joined Google there were probably five or six physicians at Google. It was me and a couple of people in Google Ventures, and that has exploded in the past five years.”

While Google’s legacy in health is still yet to be determined, Corkery says that work in health has always been a natural fit for the company and this is just the next step.

“I think if you go back to Google's IPO letter,” Corkery said, “one of the real missions there was that Google wanted to build services that could have a positive impact on the largest amount of people. Being in healthcare is one of those opportunities.”