Why Google Health?

“You know that money beats soul, every time.” – Jim Morrison, the Doors

I have been itching to write a post where I can slip in a quote from my favourite anti-hero, Jim Morrison. So what on earth does this have to do with Google Health? As I was researching a story about Google and e-health for my oft-mentioned feature for Australian Doctor, I came across some interesting questions – and potential answers – about Google’s foray into something seemingly so far from their core business:

“When it comes to health, Google has become the main place patients turn to for health information online. As well as anecdotal stories such as the US man who walked into a hospital after a Google search of his symptoms correctly led to a self-diagnosis of a heart attack, research shows that seeking health information has consistently rated among the most popular activities of Internet users (more than 80%), and Google is the place where 70% of them start their search.

“Doctors like it too. A study published in Australian Family Physician last month revealed that Google was also more popular with Australian GPs surveyed than the next five web sites combined. They said they used Google because of its ability to lead to other web sites of value, its speed and ease of use, its convenience and its wide applicability.

Looking to the future, Google is also positioning itself for a dominant role in a world where medicine is increasingly linked to the Internet with the recent launch of Google Health, an online personal health record service where patients can enter any or all of their medical histories to create a portable data record that can be accessed by a variety of doctors and other health professionals.

“…. Advocates argue that a Google Health personal health record will result in better-informed patients, fewer redundant tests and better-prepared doctors who can get a more complete picture by having their patients’ entire medical history in front of them. Access to crucial information such as allergies and current medications will allow doctors in scenarios such as emergency rooms to avoid many of the medical mistakes that injure patients or land them in hospital for long stays.

Privacy experts, meanwhile, are up in arms about the potential downsides of such a system, particularly in the hands of a company with no history of handling trusted medical data. They have raised strong concerns that private and personal records could be bought and sold by organisations such as pharmaceutical companies.

“…. Like its other services, Google Health is available free to anyone who is willing to take the time to fill out their profile. The “do no evil” cynics have questioned Google’s motives in straying from its core search business. As a Washington Post writer put it: ‘Why would Google take on such a big, difficult project — creating complex data exchange systems and storing all that personal information — if there’s no way to make money?

“’A strong personal health dashboard linked to other Google services, including its cash-cow search business, can make sure those health-seekers stay with Google rather than with the competition. Like Microsoft, for instance.’”

They may seem like they’re just out to provide a useful service to the Internet-using public, but in the long run, making money – and keeping money out of competitors’ pockets – is behind Google Health.

Money beats soul, every time…