Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

Google Health

Written By: Jason Shafrin - May• 23•06

Fard Johnmar of the Healthcare Vox blog has written a post regarding the introduction of Google Co-op.  Google Co-op allows users to perform detailed searches regarding medical issues.  You can search by symptom, condition, medical test, etc.  Johnmar states that:

What’s interesting about this service is that Google is not taking responsibility for vetting healthcare content.  Instead it is relying on the “wisdom of crowdsâ€? to aggregate and rank high-quality healthcare information.  Google is asking those interested and knowledgable about healthcare (patients, consumers, pharmaceutical companies, etc.) to submit Web sites that they feel are reputable (after signing up to the service).

Another competitor in this arena is Healia.

One issue of economic interest is that of the quality of the website.  What if you search for information regarding kidney dialysis and you come across a site with incorrect descriptions?  This is the problem of asymmetric information where the product where uncertainty exists is information itself!  Economists solve this conundrum by realizing that this is a problem only in the short run.  In the long run, patients will realize which sites give reliable information and these site will be the only ones which are valued.

For instance let us look at Jessica Otte’s comment on the Healthcare Vox website:

“I’m not impressed. A search for ‘kidney stones’ brings up http://www.rogerbaxter.com/KidneyStone/index.html as site number 2. I cannot find any references cited or any evidence that the creator is a urologist or medical researcher. It may be accurate information, but honestly, is this the most reliable way to learn about kidney stones?

Google thinks it is ‘reliable’ because the site has over 3 million hits? The same author/domain also hosts “the Japanese beetle website.” There are ads for Amazon books all over the site. None of my textbooks or sites like pubmed, mdconsult, or statref have that added feature. Maybe I’m missing something!â€?

Is this a problem?  I would say not.  Jessica realized that this information did not look credible and most likely searched for a new site which had more reliable information.  One solution to this is certification where reliable medical organizations (such as the AMA) would certify that a website had accurate content.  While this would not preclude any other website from posting inaccurate information and may not improve the Google search results, websites carrying the certification ‘seal’ would be more highly valued.  A medical information website would pay for the certification because a reliable site will have more visits and thus higher ad revenue.  The certifying body would have an incentive only certify credible website, because otherwise, their certification ‘seal’ would soon become worthless to consumers.

Bottom line: anything that brings more information to patients is a good thing in my book.

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  1. Jessica Otte says:

    I still have to disagree: I am a medical student, trained in the art of evidence based-medicine and how to distinguish reliable material from that which is not. The average patient may be web-savvy, but how many know what PubMed is and how many people have access to the articles it presents or to great databases like MDConsult or StatRef? I think it would be classist to say that everyone has access to credible information on the Internet or that everyone should be educated well enough to know the difference between ‘peer reviewed’ and ‘personal website.’

    Have you never had patients come to you having diagnosed themselves with something, using a single site on the Internet as their resource? It can be difficult to convince them otherwise, even with a thorough history, physical exam, and lab results.

    I think you need to revise your “bottom line.”

  2. […] The Healthcare Economist picked up on the article and the author felt my comments were not worthy. His "bottom line" is that anything that brings more information to patients is a good thing in [his] book." […]

  3. […] David E. Williams of Health Business Blog thinks internet health companies are getting hot again. According to the Wall-Street Journal, 5 consumer-driven startup companies have raised $41 million in venture capital. These companies (A Place for Mom, Best Doctors, Healthia, Healthline, and LifeMed Media) are providing health care consumers with better tools to a) find doctors and hospitals, b) find prices for the services doctors and hospitals provide, and, c) asses the quality of the services the doctors and hospitals provide. Other consumer-driven health content companies providing similar services include Google Health, HealthGrades, and Healia (not to be confused with Healthia, mentioned above). […]