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Google Chief Health Officer Talks Future of Health Care and Artificial Intelligence at Harvard Medical School

Google Chief Health Officer Karen B. DeSalvo spoke at a Harvard Medical School event on Monday.
Google Chief Health Officer Karen B. DeSalvo spoke at a Harvard Medical School event on Monday. By Yahir Santillan-Guzman
By Mariya R. Meleganich and Laurel M. Shugart, Contributing Writers

Karen B. DeSalvo, chief health officer at Google, discussed the future of health care and artificial intelligence at Harvard Medical School as part of the 22nd annual Seidman Lecture on Monday.

The Seidman Lecture is an annual lecture series that invites a health care policy expert outside of Harvard to provide insight on a current topic relevant to health care costs, quality, or improvements.

This year, DeSalvo’s lecture highlighted her work at Google alongside developments the company is pushing forth regarding health care and AI, some of which included understanding the health needs of users, removing barriers to access health care, and creating solutions for caregivers.

“For the first time in my lifetime, and largely because of AI, I think it’s possible to imagine democratizing health for everybody on the planet, no matter their address, the color of their skin, the kind of insurance they have, any other of their characteristics,” DeSalvo said. “And Google is certainly seeking to contribute to that.”

“But an example of how we do that with a service like Search — when people come on and they look for health information — we can raise up high-quality information that we’ve made in partnership with an organization like the National Health Service,” she added.

DeSalvo discussed Google’s use of AI to bring tools and information to caregivers for future “diagnostics and therapeutics.”

She went on to talk about how AI can be implemented to equitably distribute resources to address urgent patient needs.

“In a place like sub-Saharan Africa, where there are fewer radiologists and fewer tests for multidrug-resistant TB, how can we help the environment there, sort the highest risk X-rays to the top so that the teams there can identify which patients need the skinny resources that are available?” she said.

In her closing remarks, DeSalvo posited the real possibility of health care “access for everybody on the planet.” While discussing the promise of AI in health care, she emphasized that humans will continue to play a critical role in the field, saying that “health is human.”

“This is really an incredible time to be thinking about the ‘what if’ of what the world’s gonna look like in a few years, and I think it’s on all of us to come together to create health,” she said. “It’s not just for one sector or one part of the world alone.”

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Harvard Medical SchoolEventsTechnologyArtificial Intelligence