More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Health care information matters
by Adam Bosworth, Vice President, Google

At Google, we often get questions about what we're doing in the area of health. I have been interested in the issues of health care and health information for a while. It is now one of my main focuses here, and I've decided to start posting about it. I've been motivated in this field in part by my personal experiences helping to care for my mother, who recently died from cancer after a four-year battle. While the quality of the medical care my mother received was extraordinary, I saw firsthand how challenged the health care system was in supporting caregivers and communicating between different medical organizations. The system didn't fail completely, but struggled with these phases:

  • What was wrong -- it took her doctors nine months to correctly identify an illness which had classic symptoms
  • Who should treat her -- there was no easy way to figure out who were the best local physicians and caregivers, which ones were covered by her insurance, and how we could get them to agree to treat her
  • Once she was treated, she had a chronic illness, and needed ongoing care and coordinated nursing and monitoring, particularly once her illness recurred
Once she had a correct diagnosis and we'd found the right doctor, her treatment was excellent. But before and after treatment, most people with serious illnesses have to live through these other phases and suffer similar problems. She was trying to get help from her caregivers in the family and it was incredibly challenging to get the right information and help her make the right decisions. Often the health care system isn't well set up to address these issues. I believe our industry can help resolve some of these problems and ameliorate others.

In the end, one key part of the solution to these problems is a better educated patient. If patients understand their diseases better -- the symptoms, the treatments, the drugs, and the side effects, they are likely to get better and quicker care -- before, during, and after treatment. We have already launched some improvements to web search that help patients more easily find the health information they are looking for. Using the Google Co-op platform, Google and the health community have labeled sites and pages across the web making it easier for users to refine their health queries and locate the medical information they need. Do a search on Google about a medical issue or treatment like diabetes or Lipitor and you'll see some choices for refining your query, such as "symptoms," "treatments," and so on. If you click on "treatment," your search results are refined and reordered so that sites that have been labeled as being about treatment by trusted health community contributors are boosted in the rankings. Note that how trusted a contributor is -? and thus how much they affect your search results -? is dependent both on Google's algorithms and on who the user decides they trust. For example, if my doctor is a Google Co-op contributor and I indicate to Google that I trust her, then when I search, the sites she has labeled as relevant will show up higher in my search results.

This is just the beginning of what our industry can do. People need the medical information that is out there and available to be organized and made accessible to all. Which happens to be our mission. Health information should be easier to access and organize, especially in ways that make it as simple as possible to find the information that is most relevant to a specific patient's needs.

Patients also need to be able to better coordinate and manage their own health information. We believe that patients should control and own their own health information, and should be able to do so easily. Today it is much too difficult to get access to one's health records, for example, because of the substantial administrative obstacles people have to go through and the many places they have to go to collect it all. Compare this to financial information, which is much more available from the various institutions that help manage your financial "health." We believe our industry should help solve this problem.

As the Internet increasingly helps link communities of people, we also think there is an opportunity to connect people with similar health interests, concerns and problems. Today, people too often don't know that others like them even exist, let alone how to find them. The industry should help there, too.

These are some of the health-related problems we're thinking through at Google. We don't have any products or services to announce yet and may not for quite some time, but we thought we'd share a bit about the problems we're interested in helping out on even before we introduce solutions. As we explore these problems and continue to work on them, we hope to share more about our efforts along the way. Your help is welcome and, of course, if you're an extraordinary engineer with a passion in this field, we'd love to hear from you. Write to us at health@google.com.
 

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