Mayo Clinic and Google are launching a partnership on cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence that is the latest example of how the nation’s technology giants are starting to play a bigger role in health care.
The agreement, announced Tuesday, is a key part of an ambitious plan by Mayo’s new CEO to position the Rochester-based health care system as a platform that connects seriously ill patients with the best treatments.
Financial terms were not disclosed. As part of the 10-year agreement, Google will store the clinic’s data and open an office in Rochester for research with Mayo on solving complex health care problems.
“If this is done well, we believe we’ll have the opportunity to bring some transformative kinds of answers to patients,” Christopher Ross, Mayo’s chief information officer, said in an interview. “And we think we’ll be able to increase innovation substantially.”
Ross added, “We can put Mayo scientists next to Google scientists to help us create more insights and more breakthroughs.”
Mayo Clinic is Minnesota’s largest private employer and a marquee name in health care across the country that generated $12.6 billion in revenue last year.
Google, known for its popular internet search engine, also has developed a variety of related businesses including a division for cloud computing services, which drove revenue at parent company Alphabet Inc. to $136.8 billion in 2018. The company has made a series of moves in the past year or so to develop the health care business, including a collaboration on research technology announced in May with Mayo and five other health care groups.
“Health care is one of the most important fields that technology will help transform over the next decade, and it’s a major area of investment for Google,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a statement.
California-based Apple has been investing in its health care business including fitness features on the company’s Watch products. CEO Tim Cook told CNBC in January that the company is “democratizing” health care by “taking what has been with the institution and empowering the individual to manage their health.”
Seattle-based Amazon announced last year that it was acquiring a pharmacy business while also launching a health care startup company with corporate giants Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. The startup tangled in court earlier this year with Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group over the recruitment of an employee.
Technology companies are looking to transform health care much as they have the retail, entertainment and financial industries, said Gregg Pessin, a senior analyst on health care with Gartner Inc., a Connecticut-based company that conducts research on technology.
Health care groups, meanwhile, are turning to the technology giants for their superior capabilities with analytics, Pessin said. Initially, hospitals developed internal systems due to concerns about data security, he said.
While other hospitals have cloud-computing arrangements with technology companies, the size and scope of the Mayo Clinic agreement makes it distinctive.
“This is really big,” Pessin said. “It’s an extraordinary amount of data. I think this is setting a precedent.”
The agreement announced Tuesday calls for Google Cloud to secure, manage and store the clinic’s data. Mayo and Google will work on research projects that look at how artificial intelligence and other computing technologies might mine the data to help solve complex health problems.
“We are going to be putting essentially all of our data in the Google Cloud for many years,” said Ross, the clinic official. He added, “This will be a job-generating activity as we do more scientific research together.”
Mayo says it will continue to manage and control access and use of patient data. Data used in research would not include patient identities, and research will be conducted according to “rigorous long-standing institutional controls,” the clinic said in a statement.
Earlier this year, new Mayo Clinic Chief Executive Gianrico Farrugia said the clinic already has about 200 projects underway looking at how artificial intelligence can help improve patient care. Developing those technologies, and establishing Mayo Clinic as a platform that connects patients with sophisticated treatments, are key goals, Farrugia said in interviews with the Star Tribune. At the time, he said selecting a technology partner would be one of the first big steps.
Mayo and Google didn’t say where in Rochester the new office will be located or when it will open. The first task in the partnership, they said, is to move the clinic’s data onto the Google Cloud system.
Large health care systems have rolled out partnerships over the years with technology companies to develop electronic health record systems that compile patient care data. That’s been true at Mayo as recently as last year, when the health system concluded a multiyear project with Wisconsin-based Epic to launch its latest health record system.
Whereas those computer systems automate tracking patient records and managing transactions, “the next generation is really about developing systems of insight, and around learning systems, and around systems that help clinicians think better and make better decisions,” Ross said.
In describing his vision for Mayo Clinic as a health care platform, Farrugia referenced ride-sharing companies like Uber, which don’t own cars or employ drivers but provide technology to connect people who need a ride with car owners willing to drive others for a fee.
“Can Mayo connect, let’s say, a device company or someone who has a great solution for managing health on a smartphone … with people who need answers, people with complex and serious disease?” Ross said “What we are doing with Google is to create the modern transactional data platform that will let us do that.
“We may build some of those matchmaking businesses, or those connection businesses, with Google. We might do it with other partners,” Ross said. “But this foundation is what we will use to build our platform.”