Google Plans to Diagnose Eye Diseases with Artificial Intelligence

The healthcare industry continues to grow and advance with the development of technology and innovation. As the demand increases on healthcare systems, health and medical businesses face a growing number of challenges. In efforts to address some of these issues, Google acquired artificial intelligence startup DeepMind Health. In partnership with clinicians and hospitals, DeepMind is using their resources to help frontline nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals build and scale technologies that can help them provide the best possible care to their patients.

Using their machine learning technology, DeepMind Health can bring huge benefits to medical research. By using this technology, medical professionals can analyze medical data and find ways to improve how illnesses are diagnosed and treated, including eye diseases. At its core, their goal is to help clinicians give faster, better treatment to their patients.

How Will Google Utilize DeepMind Health?

As they continue to explore what nurses and doctors need, Google and DeepMind Health will help to design and scale new and better tools, guided by these principles:

  • Valuing clinician and patient expertise. They will build tools that support nurses, doctors, and patients. By identifying challenges, to co-designing solutions, to oversight and governance, clinicians and patients will lead every step of the way.
  • Stand behind the National Health Service (NHS). They will support NHS and strengthen the delivery of exemplary care.
  • Build technologies that work together. They will develop effective healthcare technologies that work well with existing systems while supporting new innovations.

How Does Google Plan to Use DeepMind Health in Eye Care?

One way doctors diagnose signs of eye diseases is by examining the interior of the eye. They can do this either directly, with an ophthalmoscopy or by taking a digital optical scan. Another technique is to take a non-invasive three-dimensional scan of the retina using a process called coherence tomography. These methods are labor intensive. In efforts to help with the time-consuming process of analyzing the scans, DeepMind Health is utilizing their technology to speed up diagnosis and treat more patients.

DeepMind Health is starting a new research project to help doctors spot the early signs of eye diseases. This new project, which is based out of U.K.’s Moorfields Eye Hospital in East London, is the second partnership with U.K.’s NHS team. The company plans to use their machine learning device to analyze more than one million anonymous eye scans, creating algorithms that can detect early warning signs that current technologies and humans might overlook.

More importantly, DeepMind Health is hoping to spot two eye conditions in particular: wet age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

While the project is in its infancy, artificial neural networks like the products of DeepMind’s research have already shown great promise in the field of healthcare.

What Controversies Has Google Stirred Up with DeepMind Research?

Back in February, DeepMind Health worked with NHS to develop patient care software, which stirred up controversy. One app was Streams, which gave doctors information about their acute kidney failure patients, and the other was Hark, which helps doctors and nurses organize information that is currently managed with hand-written notes.

The project was scrutinized, in which DeepMind Health was granted access to full medical history of 1.6 million NHS patients who were not made aware of that fact. This data included records from London’s Royal Free Hospital, Chase Farm and Barnet hospitals over the past five years and until 2017. As a result of this, some privacy advocates protested. The Information Commissioner’s Office, the U.K.’s data protection department, arranged investigations in May.

The new project seems unlikely to provoke similar concerns and outrage, since the data is completely anonymous.


Two million people suffer from vision loss in the U.K., of whom around 360,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted. With the right treatment in a timely response, many cases are preventable.

With the number of people with vision loss in the U.K. predicted to double by 2050, Moorfields Eye Hospital and NHS Foundation will partner with DeepMind Health to explore how artificial intelligence can help medical research in diagnosing eye diseases. Here in the US, 3.4 million Americans are legally blind; so this research could have much farther-reaching benefits if it is applied globally.

Both Moorfields Eye Hospital and DeepMind Health, along with healthcare industry,  hope that this work will eventually help eye health professionals to make faster and more accurate diagnoses, leading to more efficient treatment timelines.