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Google’s health lead says ‘global impact’ is more important than revenue for now

Google is going after the health sector in a major way, but Google’s health vice president said he’s feeling more pressure to bringits health products to Google-sized scale than to bring immediate revenue to the company.

David Feinberg, who joined Google in a newly-created role as VP of health two years ago, said several times Wednesday that he feels pressure to bring products to scale but that revenue isn’t a part of most of his discussions with Google higher-ups.

“The real pressure is ‘is this really going to help millions of people?’,” Feinberg said at the Wall Street Journal Health Tech virtual conference Wednesday. “Is it Google scale? That’s the pressure.”

However, there’s no doubt the company has a vested interest in healthcare across several business units. For instance, Google Cloud is partnering with HCA Healthcare, a healthcare provider based in Tennessee, to develop algorithms based on patient records in an attempt to improve efficiency and patient outcomes.

The company hired Obama administration official Karen DeSalvo to the company in 2019. She led the company’s Covid-19 efforts and recently announced the company is helping create a device that uses AI to detect skin conditions.

Feinberg, who helped with the exposure notification product with Apple for Covid-19, said the big product the company is focused on is Care Studio, its partnership with Ascension that aims to organize patients’ electronic records for healthcare practitioners.

Feinberg said it can scale health products including using Google’s massive user Android base.

“Yes, there’s even more pressure to have global impact and when I say global impact, we’re not talking about revenue, we’re talking about we have this diabetic retinopathy screening in India and Thailand and how do we scale that tot he rest of the world. We have the ability through Android phones to help people with pregnancy or gestational age or read an x-ray.” He said.

“How do we get that around the world? That’s the pressure, he continued. “It’s a great pressure. Some of our areas we’re thinking of revenue pressure but I’d say that would comes very later in then discussions.” 

Feinberg said in order to bring its products to scale, it needs two things: partnerships and public trust.

The company faces a tough battle against misinformation on properties like YouTube, as well as widespread distrust of how it uses customer data, thanks to its data-driven advertising business model. (Advertising still makes up more than 80% of Alphabet’s overall revenue.) Feinberg said the biggest way he sees combating misinformation online is with “authoritative” information — a strategy YouTube has maintained amid backlash for displaying early vaccine and Covid-19 misinformation.

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