Google, Mayo Clinic to partner with new Rochester office

Tech giant Google is planning on opening an office in Rochester as part of new 10-year "strategic partnership" with Mayo Clinic to store and analyze patient data with its cloud services.

Dr. Steve Peters
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Tech giant Google is planning on opening an office in Rochester as part of new 10-year "strategic partnership" with Mayo Clinic to store and analyze patient data with its cloud services.

The joint project, announced this morning, will involve copies of Mayo Clinic patient medical records and other data being uploaded into the Google Cloud. That process is expected to take 12 to 36 months, said Eric Harnisch, senior director for Mayo Clinic Business Development.

Epic Systems, which took over Mayo Clinic electronic health records in 2018, will still store the primary records at its data center in Verona, Wis., and will  store backups at its Rochester data center on West Circle Drive Northwest.

"This partnership is complimentary to Epic," said Harnisch.

This new Google partnership will involve records, like scans, videos and some reports, that Mayo Clinic stores separately from the Epic data. That means the Google project will bring copies of all of the medical data into one cloud for analysis.


Once the records, medical scans and other information is in the cloud, Mayo Clinic and Google will use artificial intelligence and advanced analytics to interpret it for clinicians and researchers to use.

"It will be closely managed by a very structured governance process. Each individual project will be reviewed by a joint steering committee. We'll be looking at hundreds of ideas," said Harnisch.

Google and Mayo Clinic both say that this will not endanger patient privacy and will eventually improve patient care.

Aashima Gupta, who spearheads health care solutions for Google Cloud, says Mayo Clinic will control the data.

"Mayo Clinic holds the keys to the data. They are choosing what data to put there and they are only ones that can access that. They own the keys to the vault," she said.

Gupta said she could not give any estimates of the number of Google employees coming to Rochester or when the office might open. 

"I can tell you this will be combination data analysts, data scientists, AI and data engineers working with physicians and researchers to form a good marriage, if you will," she said.

While Google works with many academic health care providers, Mayo Clinic competitors, Gupta said the Rochester project is unique.


"This is a long-term partnership for us. The nature of this partnership … how deep we're investing … opening an office … we're not doing that with anyone else," she said.

This partnership will place Mayo Clinic in the middle of the rapidly growing global health care cloud computing market. It is forecasted to hit a value of $27.8 billion by 2026.

This is a direction that Mayo CEO Gianrico Farrugia has identified as one of his priorities as a health care brand known for its human touch enters a shape-shifting, increasingly data-driven global health care marketplace.

"Data-driven medical innovation is growing exponentially, and our partnership with Google will help us lead the digital transformation in health care," stated Farrugia in the announcement of this new partnership. "It will empower us to solve some of the most complex medical problems; better anticipate the needs of people we serve; and meet them when, where and how they need us."

The arduous lift last year for Mayo of adopting Epic — funneling the entirety of its medical records, clinical notes and patient visits through centralized decision-making and billing-optimizing software — now gives way to something somehow bigger: the dredging of all that anonymized data by Google, the biggest data-crunching machine ever created.

That is the hope of proponents of medical AI, anyway. That refers to the use of algorithms to spot patterns in very large datasets, potentially offering hope of identifying new targets for disease intervention. Early uses of AI have centered on imaging and pathology. Optimists even hold hope that by outsourcing common diagnostic steps to machine learning, AI can return to clinicians some of the valuable time famously taken from the patient visit by the demands of medical record keeping and productivity.

This project is similar to Mayo Clinic's work with IBM's Watson Health AI and supercomputing partnership.

"This is a parallel effort to our ongoing IBM Watson work," said Mayo Clinic Chief Medical Information Officer Dr. Steve Peters. "The Google and the IBM projects are not about replacing the physician. It's about augmenting human intelligence … in a much more efficient and effective way."


Forum News Service Reporter Paul Scott contributed to this article.

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