Not one more pixel need be spilt about the issues of privacy, security, HIPAA, metastatic data, third-party crashers, or corporate imperial overreach raised by the debut of Google Health. Let’s just snap on the latex gloves and do a quick exam. This won’t hurt a bit.
Three brief clinical observations follow:
Your conditions, your choice
You can enter your “conditions” either by entering text or choosing from a disheartening alphabetic menu of bodily afflictions, from Aarskog Syndrome to Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome. The list is 20 screens by 3 columns deep when spread out on one endless page.
Immediately preceding the last entry is “Zits”–a nice bit of diction that helps reach users where they live, so to speak, to humanize the Google Machine. As with many conditions that populate the picklist (no pun), there’s a pre-loaded search for zits. But only certain conditions are pre-loaded with searches. Although “whiteheads” was on the list, when I typed it in there was no stored search. When I did the search myself up popped the zits search results.
To give the product a test run as you can see below I chose a number of conditions from the list — WHICH, IF YOU ARE AN INSURER, EMPLOYER OR ACQUAINTANCE, I ASSURE YOU ARE ENTIRELY MADE UP AND DON’T APPLY TO ME AT ALL, IN FACT I AM PERFECTLY HEALTHY. I also tried to throw Brother Google a curve ball by describing the same conditions using several different terms, i.e., arthritis, osteoarthritis and bad knees. I was permitted to add these as I wished. To see if there was any filtering or databasing of my conditions going on, I outright invented a disease by lashing together some of my favorite Greek roots: pyohemoflatalgia. (Go ahead, look ’em up.) Brother Google didn’t blink.
Conclusion: Google isn’t databasing my conditions. I’m just entering text, and the alpha picklist is just there to prompt people to identify diseases by common names.
Google Health “Research” Offers Less–and Therefore Better–Content than a Google Search
Hit the “research” link accompanying any condition and up pops a neatly tailored page on the topic. Most of the page (on, say, osteoarthritis) consists of a spectacularly workmanlike article from the utterly competent information provider A.D.A.M. The right rail has a set of links curated by some unknown hand or machine. Depending on the topic you may get a few blurbs of news items (by some method culled from the longer, messier, far less coherent Google News results on the same topic), links to Google Groups, Google Scholar articles or related searches (“search trends”).
Observation: The regular–i.e., non-Google Health–Google searches on the same topics provide better results than Google searches on non-medical topics. (Google has for some time used a service called “Google Co-op” to serve up results from only selected health content providers.) This is good–a tacit acknowledgment by Brother Google that searches for lymphoma are more important than those for, say, “David winner Idol”. STILL, THE FIRST LISTING ON THE TOP OF GOOGLE SEARCH RESULTS FOR MANY HEALTH-RELATED “SEARCH TREND” TOPICS IS OFTEN FROM WIKIPEDIA. WOULD YOU GUYS STOP THAT?
Did somebody mention “beta”?
We all know how Google overuses the term “beta” to (correctly, often) imply an evolving product and to (necessarily, often) seek forgiveness for bugs that haven’t been scrubbed out yet.
Well: After creating “my” “personal” health “record,” I tried the Google Health (beta) find-a-doctor function. “diabetes” doctors in “Bethesda, Maryland.” Enter.
This keystroke should have triggered a klaxon audio file that screamed BETABETABETA!!! Ah-OOO-Ga! Ah-OOO-Ga!
I don’t know, maybe that top endocrinologist is staying at the Grand Hyatt Washington. Or maybe he’s taken a job with the Department of Health and Human Services? (Or is it the Department of Transportation?) Who can tell?
Anyhow, the seven minutes I have for basic clinical exams is over. It was fun giving Google Health a quick once-over. But it’s a good thing the medical record is a fake. I don’t think it’s ready for circulation yet.
In fact, there were enough suspicious observations in my quick exam that. . .I think I may have to schedule a biopsy next. Who knows what’ll turn up?