Google announced yesterday that they’re breathing new life into health search. In an effort to move from an information engine to a knowledge engine, Google will soon be offering information specially curated by physicians from within The Knowledge Graph. For a company that’s declared itself less-than-invested in health care, this is a fascinating step.
Here are a few things I might have added to Google’s press release:
Before now, Google was sewer of health misinformation. While we like to think about Google as the provider we never had, it’s unfortunately a steaming sewer of influence built to sell you stuff based on your search history. Fortunately for Google, the average patient consumer has been lead to believe that unicorns and fairies magically and objectively deliver the best information. Google’s new move for more supporting knowledge is a step in the right direction for health consumers.
Algorithmic intel doesn’t work for health so we’re turning to humans. After spending billions on machine learning, Google is telling us that a room full of Mayo Clinic doctors are smarter than the room itself. This makes sense. As we face rising levels of information, we need human sensibility and contextual application that can only come through curation. How we make sense of information is, in the end, more important than the information itself.
We don’t do health and so we’re afraid you’re going to sue us. Google’s official release is dripping with open-ended disclaimer language that reflects their dyspeptic feelings about sharing health knowledge (Be empowered…but not empowered enough that anyone gets in trouble). This reminds me of the days when we all believed that the distribution of health information represented a personally accountable relationship between content producer and consumer. If they begin using ‘call 911’ disclaimers I’ll be more concerned.
Medical information becomes dated faster than you can hit refresh. Knowledge is changing almost as fast as medical information. Vetted content is good but everything we understand about health and disease is changing fast. Static information not subject to continuous review is doomed to remain just that. And managing knowledge is something very different from programing algorithms.
If you want patient input, you’re on your own. Doctors are good for certain kinds of information. Patients are also good for certain kinds of information. It isn’t clear how this might work, but I’d like to see how Google plans to bring the patient voice into the mix. This type of product offering without patient input likely isn’t sustainable.
I’ll think about this as Google evolves as a health knowledge engine. Stay tuned.
I took the picture above during a presentation at the NYC Google headquarters in 2014