In the fragmented world of U.S. healthcare, patients often have to wait in line or on hold, navigate multiple patient portals, and fill out numerous request forms—all in pursuit of their own medical history. Healthcare technology startup PicnicHealth is on a mission to put control back with the patient, where it belongs.
PicnicHealth’s growth, from closing successful venture rounds to winning machine learning (ML) competitions, speaks to not only improvements and opportunities in healthcare, but also how startups are leveraging Google Workspace and Google Cloud services to accelerate momentum.
The company does the heavy lifting of collecting records and leverages human-in-the-loop ML to transcribe and validate them with an abstraction team of medical professionals. The records are then structured into a complete medical history that patients can access and share with providers to get better care.
But PicnicHealth helps to improve patient health on more than one front. It allows patients to contribute their data to de-identified medical research, building high-quality, anonymized datasets that researchers and life sciences companies can use to better understand disease progression and treatment in the real world.
Google Workspace has been part of PicnicHealth from day one, helping the founders collaborate and shape the company’s vision using cloud-synced documents and spreadsheets to collaborate and model predictions. “I’ve had a Gmail account since 2006, and in college 100% of people worked out of Google Docs. Workspace continues to be the best choice for online collaboration, and that’s why it’s still the default standard for startups,” said Troy Astorino, CoFounder & CTO of PicnicHealth. “When we started PicnicHealth, my co-founder Noga Leviner was in San Francisco and I was in Southern California, and of course we used Workspace.”
Today, Google Workspace continues to play a central role in the company’s collaboration. “We create design documents in Google Docs, primarily for engineering and product changes, and get really healthy, vibrant discussions through comments,” noted Astorino. “This practice has grown beyond engineering and is used for everything from how the company operates to communication norms.”
Google Workspace offers everything the team needs to collaborate, no matter where employees are. PicnicHealth’s team has spread from San Francisco to being distributed across the country and around the world. Instant collaboration is crucial.
“We work in a complex domain where people need a lot of information to make good decisions,” said Astorino. “Google Workspace allows us to operate in a mode of default transparency, where people can easily get the information they need even if it wasn’t intentionally or directly shared with them. Whether it’s working in Docs or scheduling in Calendar, we can operate much more effectively than we could otherwise.”
By any measure, PicnicHealth’s trajectory is one of record success. The startup is a 2014 alumni of Y Combinator, a program that helped launch household names like Airbnb, DoorDash, and Dropbox. Three years later, the team went on to win the $1 million grand prize at Google’s Machine Learning Competition. And the momentum has continued— PicnicHealth has recently announced a $60 million Series C round, bringing the amount raised to date to over $100 million. With the Series C, PicnicHealth is investing in expanding its reach to more patients across over 30 diseases.
As a healthcare startup, PicnicHealth faced a very particular set of challenges, especially when working with and accessing data. Data fragmentation and interoperability are only some of the challenges of realizing the value of big data in the cloud. The healthcare industry is notoriously difficult to navigate due to sensitive data protection laws and regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
PicnicHealth started in the cloud on Amazon Web Services (AWS). However, after migrating over to Kubernetes and facing an expanding list of requirements for HIPAA compliance, the company started to explore alternatives.
“We needed to be HIPAA compliant, which was going to be painful on AWS, and we wanted to get away from managing and operating our own Kubernetes clusters,” recalled Astorino. “We had heard good things about GKE (Google Kubernetes Engine). And particularly valuable for us, — many technical requirements you need for HIPAA compliance are configured by default on Google Cloud.”
PicnicHealth would have had to implement a lot of changes and get specialized instance types to get their existing configuration to work. So, they began experimenting with Google Cloud and discovered a much smoother experience.
“It was a lot easier to manage in terms of product setup and developer experience,” said Astorino. “There is a sane product hierarchy of resources you can access and use through Google Cloud and the relationships between them, from coordinated IAM (identity and access management) to using Google Groups for granting permissions. Overall, it’s cleaner.”
Astorino added that the move has also opened the doors to taking advantage of other services in the Google Cloud ecosystem like Cloud SQL, BigQuery, and Cloud Composer. PicnicHealth also uses Security Command Center because it easily integrates with everything but also helps meet various compliance frameworks’ requirements, providing visibility, near-real-time asset discovery, and security information and event management.
But most importantly, the integrated ecosystem has simplified the work needed for PicnicHealth to create a secure environment for employees to use when working with sensitive medical records while still providing all the tools they need. For example, abstractors not only use Google Workspace but also have Chromebooks because they are easy to manage and secure.
Altogether, Google Cloud helps form a technology stack that has enabled the startup to build a massive labeled dataset containing over 100 million labeled medical data concepts. In turn, it accelerates PicnicHealth’s ability to generate highly-performant AI models and feed other ML pipelines, which has been vital for processing and reviewing data at scale.
By: Avi Negrin (Product Marketing Manager, Technology & Startups, Google Cloud)
Source: Google Cloud Blog