Healthcare IT

Google Health

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 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.