Mayo Clinic, Google show how they're deploying cloud-based AI to combat COVID-19

In a HIMSS Learning Center presentation, Mayo CIO Cris Ross, Platform President Dr. John Halamka and other experts will show how the pandemic is accelerating the health system's infrastructure transformation.
By Mike Miliard
11:07 AM

Mayo Clinic CIO Cris Ross and Aashima Gupta, director of Global Healthcare Solutions at Google

One of the effects of the COVID-19 public health emergency is that it has added urgency and speed to technology transformations that were already occurring, such as cloud migration and deployments of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

At few places is that shift more pronounced than at Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic, which six months before the pandemic arrived in the United States had embarked on a decade-long strategic partnership with Google Cloud.

"Our partnership will propel a multitude of AI projects currently spearheaded by our scientists and physicians, and will provide technology tools to unlock the value of data and deliver answers at a scale much greater than today," said Mayo CIO Cris Ross at the time.

Shortly after the partnership was announced, toward the end of 2019, the health system hired longtime CIO Dr. John Halamka as president of Mayo Clinic Platform, tasking him with leading a cloud-hosted, AI-powered digital transformation across the enterprise.

In the months since, like the rest of the world, Mayo Clinic has found itself tested and challenged by the pandemic and its ripple effect – but has also embraced the moment as an inflection point, a powerful moment to push forward with an array of new use cases to drive quality improvement, streamline efficiency, and boost the health of patients and populations in the years ahead.

In a new complementary HIMSS Learning Center presentation – airing Monday, Aug. 24, at 1 p.m. CT – Ross, Halamka and others will offer insight into their recent experience leveraging cloud-based AI to mine new datasets, reshuffle workflows, power clinical research and scale up virtual care in response to COVID-19.

The presentation, The Investment from the Ground Up: What It Takes to Prime a Healthcare Organization for AI and ML, will feature a discussion between Ross and Aashima Gupta, director of Global Healthcare Solutions at Google, who will offer tips and best practices for the infrastructure innovation needed for this new era of patient experience and population health management.

James D. Buntrock, vice chair of IT enterprise technology services at Mayo Clinic, along with Ilia Tulchinsky, head of engineering at Google Cloud Healthcare and Life Sciences, will talk about specific use cases where AI and machine learning are bringing big dividends at Mayo – and give advice for how other health systems might strategize their investments and maximize the value of their AI deployments.

Buntrock noted that Mayo recently launched an internal workgroup to find new AI opportunities – but soon realized that algorithmic tools were already well in place in many departments. "To our surprise, we identified more than 200 activities that were using some sort of AI or machine learning methodology," he said.

Mostly those were in places one might expect, he explained: imaging, digital pathology, cardiology and genomics.

But since then, enabled by both "advances around compute and AI methods themselves," the health system has "continued to expand [its] interest in applying AI techniques to complex problems," Buntrock said.

Halamka will offer his own perspective, not just as Mayo Platform president, but also as a leader of the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, which convened in March, bringing together blue chip organizations such as Epic, athenahealth, AWS, Microsoft, Intermountain and others, all working to speed development of innovative, open source tools to fight the pandemic. (The coalition recently published a new impact report, which can be found here.)

Mayo's work with Google Cloud is already enabling big new opportunities for cooperation and collaboration, which Halamka will explain in the HIMSS presentation.

"COVID-19 has forced us to collaborate much faster and advance to many more cloud functions than we probably would have without the pandemic," said Halamka.

As he sees it, there are "five eras" to the pandemic:

  • Isolation
  • Testing and tracing
  • Pre-vaccine return to work
  • Post-vaccine return to work
  • The new normal

"Each requires its own data and analytics," said Halamka.

As Mayo manages "700 datasets a day," he explained, "Google has helped us with data gathering, storage and analytics."

The upsurge in telehealth has been another major sea change, of course, and Google Cloud has helped Mayo Clinic lay the groundwork for that new normal, Halamka said: "Twenty percent of healthcare delivered at a distance, with a different kind of user experience for the patient and provider, reducing the burden for all."

And as new therapeutics and a hoped-for vaccine are developed, Halamka said "all of this requires immense gathering of data and experience from thousands of locations to understand safety and efficacy."

The cloud, he said, is essential to "gather data and communicate and ensure distribution is equitable. This is a new approach for many organizations that were used to using on-prem licensed software with silos."

These are challenging times. But most challenges come with silver linings. Going forward, said Halamka, "I have great confidence that, coming out of this pandemic, we're going to be using cloud-hosted services to share data – and observations and wisdom – more frequently than ever."

"The Investment from the Ground Up: What It Takes to Prime a Healthcare Organization for AI and ML" will air Monday, Aug. 24, at 1 p.m. CT on the HIMSS Learning Center. Click here to register.

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
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Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.

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