The Future of Nursing: Will Google’s New AI Clinical Search Tool Be a Game-Changer for Nurses?

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated November 13, 2023
Edited by
    Google’s healthcare-focused generative AI search tool may significantly influence the future of nursing and healthcare. Here’s what you should know.
    Medical team looking at laptop togetherCredit: Getty Images
    • Google has announced Vertex AI Search, a cloud-based search tool using generative AI designed for patient data.
    • Several large healthcare systems are currently testing the tool’s potential. Mayo Clinic is reserving tests to administrative applications until it’s clearly ready for patient care.
    • Google’s Vertex AI Search tool could change the execution of healthcare alongside Google’s Med-PaLM 2 which can be used to answer complex medical questions.

    In October at HLTH 2023 — one of the largest healthcare conferences in the world — Google announced the release of Vertex AI Search, a new generative AI search tool for nurses and other healthcare practitioners. According to developers, the hope is that Vertex AI Search could streamline administrative duties and free up time and focus for direct patient care.

    The search tool was uniquely tuned for the healthcare ecosystem, designed to search for a broad spectrum of information across electronic health records (EHRs) and clinical notes.

    “Healthcare is a data-intensive industry with the majority of the medical knowledge locked up in unstructured documents and text,” said Vish Anantraman, chief technology officer for Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which helped test the tool. “New search functionality from Vertex AI provides…new capabilities to use data to support a wide range of applications.”

    Are the claims realistic? How will this new tool impact patient care? Can it help nurses perform their work to a higher standard? Here are the answers.

    Google’s Generative AI Tool Set to Improve Search for Practitioners

    Although Google Cloud announced the development of the Vertex AI Search tool on October 9, early testing took place at multiple healthcare institutions, including Mayo Clinic, Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, and Highmark Health in Pennsylvania.

    “Now that we’ve moved our significant data, applications workload, and other IT resources from on-premises to Google Cloud, using gen AI for search over our enterprise data has the potential to dramatically improve the information and insights we can deliver to our clinicians and our other team members,” said Kash Patel, executive vice president and chief digital information officer for Hackensack Meridian Health. “Data is at the core of how we are modernizing healthcare, and Vertex AI Search for healthcare and life sciences will help us make the most of our data.”

    Vertex AI Search tool finds patient information within the chart and summarizes pertinent clinical data, so healthcare providers spend less time and energy searching for information to diagnose and create an appropriate treatment plan.

    The company hopes that the software will not only help bridge the gap of workforce shortages but can also reduce provider burnout by lowering administrative burdens of searching through patient information, therefore having a unique impact on the future of nursing.

    Mayo Clinic has not yet used the search tool for direct clinical care, reserving it for administrative use until it believes the technology is ready to use in patient care. Nevertheless, Mayo Clinic hopes it can impact the future of nursing and healthcare by summarizing surgical notes, sorting through complex histories, and answering questions such as “What is the smoking status of this patient?”

    Google hopes the application can help healthcare providers find necessary information — and gain important clinical insights — more quickly. Google designed the search tool for healthcare institutions and life sciences companies. In the case of life science companies, Vertex AI Search can enhance product development, support precision medicine, and drive operational efficiency.

    Google Cloud built Vertex AI Search to search not only structured data, such as information filled out on a form or typed into the computer, but also unstructured data, such as patient notes and scanned documents.

    This capability, alongside Vertex AI Search, will likely change how healthcare is delivered. Google reports that the software is in the early stages, and with accelerated development, it hopes to see better patient healthcare experiences.

    This technology comes at a time when administrative costs have grown substantially, and the U.S. faces a projected shortage of 3.2 million healthcare workers. By relieving some of the administrative burden by providing information more quickly and with less effort, Google hopes Vertex AI Search can improve clinical decision-making and increase the quality of care clinicians can deliver.

    How Could Google AI Change the Execution of Healthcare

    Not only are healthcare organizations utilizing the new search tool, but Meditech’s EHR platform has already integrated the generative AI capability into their system.

    “We will be exploring next how the broader capability with Vertex AI Search can further empower providers and patients,” said Helen Waters, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Meditech, in a statement. “Beyond simply synthesizing information, these capabilities can organize and surface the most important information to help overburdened care teams in their workflow.”

    Google’s Vertex AI Search has solved several obstacles in the machine learning landscape by unifying several constructs across the pipeline. Deployment has thus far been successful.

    The new features built into Vertex AI Search capability include conversational search applications and easy-to-set-up questions and answers that take advantage of the tool’s ability to search data, compile it, summarize it, and improve decision-making.

    What Are the Privacy Implications of AI in Healthcare?

    Data privacy and protection are of utmost importance in healthcare. Medical record theft has transformed the healthcare industry in the last 10 years. While digital access makes treatment easier and more accessible, it also increases the risk of external and internal data breaches that expose medical records and increase financial losses.

    According to UpGuard, roughly 95% of people in the U.S. had their medical information disclosed between 2009 and 2021, and 88% of hackers attack healthcare entities for financial reasons. The healthcare sector has had the highest number of security breaches, and 30% of those are hospital-related. Healthcare accounts for 79% of data breaches, and 67% involve compromised medical information.

    While digital data storage and search can reduce the administrative burden on healthcare workers, it can also increase the risk of data breaches, theft, and financial loss.

    Vertex AI Search operates within the Google Cloud, which the company states complies with security source data storage that supports HIPAA compliance, including customer security processes and privacy controls. The Vertex AI Search, Healthcare Data Engine, and Healthcare API all support regulatory compliance.