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In its most high-profile bid to capitalise on the medical imaging market to date, Google has launched a new cloud-based medical imaging suite.
The suite is comprised of several tools, centred around Google Cloud’s image storage and Healthcare API suite, including NVIDIA’s MONAI for AI annotation and automation, BigQuery and Looker to help providers better navigate imaging datasets and Vertex AI to help accelerate the development of scalable AI models. Google says that by offering these tools in one product, it hopes to make diagnostic data more accessible and interoperable, while also readying providers for the development and implementation of artificial intelligence programmes.
While there has been significant promotion of the new suite, many of the tools were already available individually. What, therefore, does the launch really have in store?
The Signify View
Some well-justified scepticism will no doubt surround Google’s launch of its Medical Imaging Suite. The company has looked to expand its role in healthcare beyond feeding the imaginations of hypochondriacs several times, introducing Google Health in 2008 and discontinuing it in 2012, before rebooting it in 2018 and dismantling it again in 2021. It has, in the past also looked to develop front-line AI tools from its DeepMind division, consumer health products via its FitBit acquisition and apps for medical research among others. None of these tools, however, has yet made the significant, lasting impact that was expected by one of the world’s best-known firms.
Despite the sometimes inconsistency of these attempts, however, the company has been making headway in medical imaging with another, broader part of the business.
The adoption of cloud capability in medical imaging is still nascent, but some cloud providers, including Google, have become trusted partners for many earlier adopters. While Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft’s Azure are the public cloud providers that have seen the most uptake in medical imaging so far, Google Cloud, having reached some significant agreements with notable imaging IT vendors such as Visage, and Change Healthcare, as well as some notable and well-respected providers such as Mayo clinic, is hot on their heels.
Despite this, however, the Alphabet subsidiary’s presence in the market has been less visible compared to that of Azure and AWS. The launch of the Google Cloud Medical Imaging Suite highlights an end to this quiet and heralds the start of a more aggressive approach.
Making such a transition has become increasingly important for the cloud provider. While Google has made progress, as AWS and Microsoft begin to pull away, Google misses its window to capitalise on the first phase of medical imaging cloud adoption. This is particularly true as Microsoft begins to capitalise on its Nuance Communication acquisition, for example, while Amazon continues to leverage its already extensive list of AWS partners.
Google will not countenance these advantages overnight, particularly given that on the face of it, its Medical Imaging Suite, which no doubt will be preferred by some customers with some specific use cases, is not a revolutionary leap. It may offer some advantages, but there is nothing truly ground-breaking that stands as a major differentiator compared to AWS or Microsoft.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t any aspects that aren’t attractive. The emphasis Google has placed on its AI offerings, for example, could swing some providers in its favour if they are looking to capitalise on their medical imaging data and facilitate its use among AI developers or indeed develop their own tools in-house. Its reputation for AI development could, in some cases aid its cause. This is especially true as many of the customers which have chosen to use Google public cloud are highly influential academic hospitals.
Reputations work both ways though. While Google holds a staunch reputation for technical prowess, there are other factors that may give potential customers pause for thought. Chief among them are several high-profile incidents and agreements surrounding Google and identifiable patient data, including data from the Royal Free NHS Trust in London, and a deal with US healthcare provider Ascension. In these and other cases, Google’s actual culpability is somewhat moot, with the shadow of data insecurity, even if entirely unjustified, potentially enough to push a would-be customer in the direction of one of Google’s competitors.
Another concern for any potential customers considering turning to Google for their cloud provision is the vendors’ long-term commitment to medical imaging. While the more general aspects of Google’s cloud offering will continue to be supported, Google’s repeated high-profile salvos into healthcare, and the associated withdrawals, give the impression of a vendor that has no compunctions about pulling out of a market, reorganising its business units and ending its involvement in certain segments with little notice. Such an assessment may be unfair, particularly given that other cloud providers including Microsoft and IBM have both made equally high-profile pushes and retreats from some healthcare markets, but, with cloud representing a long-term investment, such concerns may weigh on decision makers’ minds when it comes time to signing on the dotted line.
These spectres are not impossible to exorcise, however. Google along with its peers are increasingly forging partnerships with imaging IT vendors in order to effectively create a joint sales strategy. Cloud providers, alongside vendor partners, are combining their efforts to sell to hospital networks, enabling the partners to highlight the benefits associated with a public cloud deployment, while also utilising the expertise from the imaging IT vendor in radiology.
Such evolution in sales strategy is also being mirrored in service provision. Along with the broader medical imaging market, deals are increasingly transitioning to managed service agreements. In terms of cloud deployments this is beginning to manifest as public cloud providers managing deployments much more closely, with for example, infrastructure and costing falling under the cloud provider’s remit.
Whether any of these factors are enough to sway a decision towards or away from Google, and indeed what influence they ultimately have on a providers’ choice of public cloud vendor, is still overarchingly dependent on individual deal context.
Google’s new Medical Imaging Suite will make the firm’s solution more attractive to many vendors, but any advantages will likely be overshadowed by much more significant influences. A deal’s locality, for example, may be a far more important factor in a provider’s decision if that provider is in a country which stipulates that cloud providers must have datacentres within-region, for instance, or if it is in a market sector that already has a preferred supplier.
As such, there are in most cases considerations far more significant than the differences between comparable cloud competitors. That, however, does not mean that Google’s latest efforts do not represent a significant step.
While the launch of its Medical Imaging Suite is unlikely to reverse the lead that AWS and Microsoft’s Azure have for public cloud departments, it does show Google’s intention. It highlight’s the vendor’s ambition in the space and lays the foundation upon which it can build over the coming years. Moreover, the launch also enables Google to remain competitive as other cloud providers such as Oracle and IBM which have already made their intentions clear, begin to more aggressively promote their own solutions.
Or, to put it another way, Google’s launch ensures it remains on the first page of search results, but, it has not yet offered anything to warrant rapidly climbing through the rankings.
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