Everyone is Googling Health issues – Who is Answering?

The internet is a wealth of information, and, in some cases, a wealth of confusing and overwhelming information.

 

When it comes to health care, this can have serious consequences.

Having panicky, misinformed patients piecing together plans to tackle their health challenges based on what comes up in their Google search results is counterproductive for both patients and providers. It places undue pressure on the health care system through poor patient compliance and unnecessary testing.

Google provides search results based first on paid advertising and then by a complicated algorithm that includes website popularity and usefulness. Google does not necessarily prioritize based on quality and it has no mechanism to help consumers assimilate the results or provide context.  The way this intersects with the health care can have a profound impact for individuals and communities.

 

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Searching for “Diabetes treatments,” for example, brings to the top of your results page advertisements for a variety of pharmaceutical options with competing value propositions and extensive data but completely out of context of what a physician or health plan may or may not recommend for a given individual.

The next Google result is an ad for diabetes.org, home of the nonprofit American Diabetes Association. Then, the searcher finds nearly a dozen links to writeups about common diabetes medications, ways to manage diabetes, traditional treatments, alternative treatments, and diet and exercise recommendations.

This is all on the first page of results! Heaven forbid someone clicks to pages 2, 3, and 4 …

On the surface, these results seem comprehensive. But, do you know what’s missing? Data, evidence, treatment costs, realistic prognoses, recovery time statistics, and patient reviews. In other words, the assets that guide consumers to take beneficial actions.

 

Easing Anxiety with Actionable Treatment Options

Can healthcare organizations meet the need for a medical information environment that eases anxieties and that presents actionable options, instead of creating alarm through information overload?

It’s also important to consider who is searching treatment plans. A 2015 article in The Journal of Medical Internet Research recognized that “People experiencing trouble accessing health care services for reasons unrelated to their insurance status are more likely to report using the Internet to obtain health information.

“Improving the accuracy and reliability of health information resources that are publicly available online could help those who are searching for information due to trouble accessing health care services.” J Med Internet Res 2015

While 72% of Americans Google their symptoms, there are many who use online search as a replacement for, or an alternative to, seeking direct care.

Can we do better for all healthcare consumers?

 

What is the Alternative to Endless Google Searches?

Healthcare organizations have the ability to provide people with better cost information and empower them to weigh their treatment options while incorporating accurate cost variables.

In addition, there is quantitative information that can be provided to pinpoint expected recovery times, based on data that shows how long it takes for a patient receiving a particular treatment to return to work.

Is the next step in healthcare a more comprehensive offering that enables healthcare providers to truly partner with healthcare consumers and provide valuable guidance through digital means?

When treatment guidance is evidence-based and consumers are informed partners in their care, the benefits spread to all the system’s stakeholders.

Employers see reduced absences due to illness, providers find patients who are more compliant and invested in their treatment plans, the system is burdened with fewer unnecessary tests, and overall healthcare costs are reduced.

 

Patients who have access to better data, make more informed decisions, and reap better health outcomes.

 

Let us know what you think.

Thank you,

Max Kahn