Alphabet Google Back in the Medical Info Business

February 7, 2017

I worked on a project years ago related to Google’s push into medical records. I delivered my monograph and then watched as the Google health push followed a familiar trajectory: Excited team, stealth operation, partnership with a big health care outfit, and then fizzle wizzle. You may recall the breathless Computerworld reportage.

By 2011, health was dead. The idea that the GOOG could help those who were suffering never went away. Evidence one assumes to be accurate suggests that Dr. Google has finished ze’s post doctoral work and returned to the office.

Navigate to “Dr Google Gets Real: Intent Search Giant Launches Doctor Approved Responses to the Most Commonly Asked health Questions.” My goodness, the headline echoes the Ziff/Information Access Health Reference Center from the late 1980s. (To keep you up to date, gentle reader, I worked at the Ziffer at this time and was involved in that then ground breaking project.) The wheel keeps on turning over well tilled ground once again.

According to the “real” news write up, the new Google service rolls out in Australia. Hey, where is that country in relation to my Doc in the Box?

I learned:Google has launched a new health search tool to show reliable information. Health searches will now provide information fact-checked by a team of doctors. The feature will include the condition, symptoms, diagnosis, and prevalence. Australians can now trust Dr Google to provide them with accurate information.

The approach seems to be one in which curated questions are answered. The user asks a question, and the system displays the answer. Just like the 1988 Health Reference Center and the subsequent approach of that wonderful search system AskJeeves.

The service is optimized for mobile, of course. I noted this statement:

The feature will include an outline of the condition, symptoms, diagnosis, and prevalence according to age at the top of search results.

The differentiation of the Google service from visiting a real doctor is important. Real doctors like real journalists like to maintain a membrane between their expertise and the masses. I noted this statement from a real Australian doctor who comments about the system in an objective (of course) way:

‘What this has done has improved the quality and accuracy of the information people will get when they do the very frequent health searches because up until now the results of the searches were indiscriminate in terms of their veracity and reliability.’ But the information should not be used to form a diagnosis, warned Dr Bartone. ‘It is information – it is not knowledge. It is essentially to aid a person’s understanding around a certain condition,’ he said. ‘A diagnosis is based upon taking a history, an examination and knowing the past medical history of that patient and a management plan is formulated on all those inputs,’ said Dr Bartone.

And don’t forget:

Any health concerns should be discussed with a GP.

And DeepMind and health? Well, Google does have those NHS records.

Stephen E Arnold, February 7, 2017


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