Right now, people turn to a number of sources when they search for healthcare information. WebMD, About.com and Yahoo! are just a few of the sources poeple turn to when looking for content. In addition, few would argue with the contention that Google is a significant (or dominant) player in this space.
The plethora of search engines available makes searching for online health information a tedious and uncertain task. For example, Amy Tenderich, author of Diabetes Mine, once said that she searched online for information about diabetes foot care and got 2 million hits. Today, we rely on human filters (bloggers, journals, etc.) to help us find and contextualize healthcare content. Clearly, this process needs to be improved.
Healthcare Search With Google Health: We Get Filters, But Who Decides What Is Important?
If Google Finance (see this sample search on Pfizer) is any indication, users of the new Google Health service will have a much easier task of contextualizing healthcare information. Content about diseases and medications may be presented in an organized fashion. In addition, users may be able to access highly rated Web sites. Finally, and most importantly it is likely that users will be able to view posts from bloggers, which elevates the importance of consumer-generated content.
As wonderful as this state of affairs is, I wonder how Google will answer tough questions like:
-Who (or what) will decide what information is important? Search engine optimization (SEO) experts have mastered the art of attracting Google’s bots that “slurp” information from myriad Web sites on a daily basis. Will Google Health be vulnerable to the usual SEO tricks?
-What will be highlighted: Corporate or individual information? As unruly as online search is today, it provides users with the opportunity to gather information from a number of different sources – corporations, bloggers, Web sites, etc. While marketers would prefer a more organized information flow, people looking for healthcare content tend to trust material developed by their peers (see this post for more on this topic). Will Google Health preserve the balance between corporate and non-corporate content?
-Who will decide what is credible? Carol Kirshner, author of Driving In Traffic has asked: “What constitutes credible health care information on the internet. Is there room for emerging and new discoveries, opinions, views of clinical experts?” These are good questions. Medicine is as much of an art as a science. Allowing people to access information from many sources is important. How will Google preserve what I call the “many voices” dynamic?
Another important question is: How will Google decide what is credible? Kirshner has asked Google to talk to credible and knowledgeable people (especially bloggers) who can help it determine what is reliable healthcare information. I second her motion.
-How will Google handle inappropriate content or government censors? Much has been made of Google’s decision to censor certain content from users of Google in China. In addition, the New York Times reported yesterday that Google has been having trouble monitoring and regulating the activities of child pornographers, pedophiles and racist and anti-Semitic groups on Orkut, a social networking Web site popular in Brazil.
Given this, I could see Google getting in trouble if it bowed to pressure to only highlight certain types of information about sexual health (abortion, the morning after pill, etc.), blockbuster medications and other topics. If Google is going to filter healthcare information, it must do so in a transparent and credible fashion.
More Discussion Welcome
These are just a few of the important issues relating to the potential introduction of Google Health. I look forward to a dynamic and vibrant debate about this new development within and without the blogosphere.