Google to launch appointment scheduling in search, submits new Fitbit feature to FDA

Google announced a number of health product updates Thursday, including new search functionality for finding provider appointments, ongoing work on using Fitbit to detect atrial fibrillation, and research using smartphones and artificial intelligence to conduct obstetric ultrasounds.

“The pandemic has really strengthened our resolve as a company that we could and should apply our technologies to see that we can be helpful to everyone, everywhere, as they live their lives and encounter their health journey,” Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Google’s chief health officer, said during a press call. “It also really strengthened our resolve about how important it is to think about meeting people where they are on the products that they’re already using every day.”

Using search for doctor’s appointments

Building on earlier search updates that helped users check for in-network providers and languages spoken in office, Google is launching new functionality in the coming weeks that will give users a list of available appointments when searching for a specific provider. 

Google is partnering with CVS’ MinuteClinic as well as online scheduling companies to support the new tool. It will initially roll out nationwide in English, but Jackie DeJesse, product manager at Google, said the project is still in the early stages and will continue to be developed over time. 

“We hope to expand features, functionality and our network of partners so we can make it easier for people to get the care they need,” DeJesse said.

Potential features for Fitbit

The tech giant said it had submitted to the FDA for clearance to use photoplethysmography sensors on its Fitbit wearable to help detect atrial fibrillation. Fitbit announced the Fitbit Heart Study to evaluate the capability in 2020 and presented results late last year. 

Fitbit has already received the FDA green light to use ECG to monitor heart rhythm. Google research scientist Tony Faranesh said the light-based PPG sensors could be used for longer-term monitoring, while ECG functionality could serve as a heart-rhythm spot check.

“We’re very excited about our development of long-term heart rhythm assessments using PPG technology, which can assess the user’s heart rhythm passively in the background by sensing a user’s pulse at the wrist and alert them if there’s a risk of AFib, encouraging them to talk with their doctor to seek further diagnostic assessment,” Faranesh said. 

AI for ultrasound access

Google announced a partnership with Northwestern University to study using a smartphone to conduct obstetric ultrasounds, backed by AI that can assist with training and interpreting results. 

Greg Corrado, Distinguished Scientist at Google Research, said the tool could help expand access to ultrasounds in lower- and middle-income countries, where some areas may face shortages of technicians.

“We focused on methods that allow someone to make a simple pattern of sweeps across the mother’s belly and then have the AI interpret that data to establish gestational age and fetal presentation,” he said.

The tech giant is also continuing research on its Automated Retinal Disease Assessment, which initially focused on analyzing images of the inside of the eye for diabetic retinopathy. The new research will focus on whether a basic smartphone photo of the outside of the eye could detect disorders, so users could conduct assessments at home. 

Another new research focus will evaluate whether a smartphone’s microphone, when placed over the chest, could screen for aortic stenosis before patients show symptoms. 

Health misinformation on YouTube

In an effort to stem the flow of health-related misinformation that has proliferated on social media, YouTube is expanding features that identify the source and context behind health videos and provide content from medical sources at the top of results when searching for a specific condition. 

The tools will be available this week in Brazil, Japan and India. The features initially launched in July last year. 

“Following these launches, we plan to expand further and ensure that we’re making it easier for users to find and identify credible health information globally,” said Lee Hadlow, director of health partnerships for North America at YouTube.

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