A Google Health Clinical Exam

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
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”).

Runner\'s Knee Sidebar

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

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?

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4 replies »

  1. can’t resist highlighting the mirthiness of one of the conditions Matt’s bogus condition search term query returned:
    “gloomy gus syndrome”

  2. Jordan–Thanks for the link on your trial run with GHealth. I recommend the blog posting to anyone reading this–Jordan writes about the annoyances of adding medication information and screening for drug interactions. Very rough at this point–and not a good move for Google to be releasing its PHR with such obvious flaws in a feature that is essentially a commodity on dozens of web sites. Funcitonal drug interaction tools are a dime a dozen on the healthweb.

  3. I did the exact same once over and surprised by the “commerciality” of it. The doctors seem to be from the Ye…. Pages (if you don’t advertise tough luck) and the institutions that offer free advice are heavily branded beyond the entry page. I know it’s just a beta, but the how much does an institution pay to have that clickable “check your risk for metabolic syndrome” tool on the screen? It’s not a question of a beta version but a question of advertising.

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