Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Health Inequalities in the U.S.: A Good Target for our Work

Following the announcement of my recent transition to Verily, I’ve been gratified to see that my key motivation for making this move—to find ways to combine Silicon Valley’s technical prowess with expertise in the practical application of technologies in health and healthcare for the nation’s benefit—is resonating widely. This may be due to a growing realization that our country is facing serious health challenges that require action now.

Here’s a key piece of motivational evidence: For the first time in a century, average American life expectancy is declining instead of increasing. The heat map shown below, the result of an elegant investigation by researchers from the University of Seattle and the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, shows that the problem is especially acute in rural counties with lower average economic and educational status.

I’m joining Verily at a remarkable moment in biomedicine—one in which an ongoing revolution in scientific understanding is being sharply accelerated by parallel revolutions in information science and computing capabilities. And at Verily and Alphabet, the possibilities often seem boundless. But as the alarming statistics on stark display in the map remind us, we have not yet figured out how to consistently translate this amazing new potential into better health—or how to ensure that all people can benefit equally from it.

From my perspective, the critical questions are:

  • Can we get better, actionable health information to people?
  • Can we accelerate evidence generation so we have a better understanding of the best courses of action, both for individual patients and for populations?
  • Can we create tools that help patients and doctors work together more effectively to improve health, while also improving the working experience for the healthcare team?
  • Can we leverage the leadership of universities and their large integrated health systems to translate promising concepts and technological potential into applications that promote behaviors and organizations that lead to healthier, more functional living?

I’m excited to work at a place with so many creative, mission-driven people dedicated to making a real difference. As we dive into specific challenges, I hope we’ll soon be able to make substantial contributions to drawing a better health map of America!

Posted by Robert Califf, M.D.