Google Founders Downplay Healthcare Plans

Will Google ever be a healthcare company? The answer to that question appears to be “not really,” based on the tenor of a recent interview between Larry Page and Sergey Brin and investor Vinod Khosla.

In that conversation, Khosla hinted at the potential of mobile technology to be used in healthcare. “Android is a natural platform for health. Mobile is, and health needs to be distributed and highly accessible — broadly, not just at the hospital.”

While acknowledging that healthcare represented a larger business than search, Brin lamented how heavily regulated that market was. “It’s just a painful business to be in. It’s just not necessarily how I want to spend my time,” he said. Brin later opined that the “regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.”

Still, the company does plan to continue doing a number of health projects that it has announced recently.

In 2013, Google acquired Calico, a mysterious biotech company dedicated to human longevity.

In the first half of 2014, Google announce new healthcare-related projects. In January, the company announced that it was working on a glucose-dispensing contact lens.

More recently, the company announced its plans for Google Fit, a health-data platform.

The company, however, has shied away from healthcare in general after shutting down Google Health in 2012, a personal health record database launched in 2008.

Larry Page stated that he was still interested in leveraging data mining to improve healthcare. He speculated that a searchable database of redacted U.S. medical data could save 10,000 lives in the first year. “That’s almost impossible to do because of HIPPA,” he added. “I do worry that we regulate ourselves out of some really great possibilities that are certainly on the data-mining end.”

The abstract challenge of working on innovative projects that require working complying with complex safety rules hasn’t stopped Google from working on projects such as driverless cars. “On the face of it, it’s pretty amazing that a company that doesn’t think twice about tackling absurdly challenging scientific projects […] is brought to its knees by the prospect of dealing with the byzantine regulation around healthcare,” writes Forbes columnist David Shaywitz.

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