When exactly did “google” become a verb?
Officially, it became one in 2006 when it entered the Oxford English Dictionary. Among friends, colleagues, and universities it happened much earlier.
And google we do… for everything from holiday recipes to identifying what type of bug bite we have. Or if we have pink eye. Or whether we have a thyroid issue, a bad case of the flu, gangrene, or any other number of health issues.
Google can provide access to countless sources of valuable medical information on the internet, but trouble comes into the picture when people with no medical training use search results as a diagnostic procedure. This problem is the subject of a new commercial and ad campaign from DDB Brussels encouraging people not to “Google it” when it comes to health concerns.
For their part, Google claims that they would like to help improve the face of healthcare, but co-founder Sergey Brin explains: “Generally, health is just so heavily regulated. It’s just a painful business to be in. I think the regulatory burden in the US is so high that it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.”
But that’s not stopping them. Despite the pain of the business, the world’s most valuable global brand is working to improve healthcare in 3 key ways:
1. Google your symptoms… and talk to a doctor?
For people who can’t afford or don’t have healthcare, a Google search might ease their worries about a particular illness… but it could also (and often does) provide the wrong diagnosis. For those who prefer not to go to the doctor unless it is completely necessary, the internet is also a common source for aid and information, but they run into the same problems as those who can’t afford healthcare.
For the cyberchondriacs of the world, a rash may become Ebola and an ache may become cancer before a doctor has had a chance to get involved.
Cyberchondria, a tech-savvy version of hypochondria referring to the anxiety induced by health-related online searches, is now a known term in the medical field.
Google is currently hoping to combat these online diagnosis by conducting a trial of free medical video chatting in California and Massachusetts.
While searching for health information, residents of these two states may see an advice box pop up that reads: “Based on your search query, we think you are trying to understand a medical condition” with an accompanying offer to video call a doctor.
Google says that all video calls to doctors made during this trial will be free to users and covered by Google. A Google spokeswoman told the Guardian, “Our goal is to provide you with the most helpful information possible.”
2. The ultimate fitness app
First announced at the Google I/O conference in June of this year, Google Fit was Google’s response to Apple’s Health app. A health-tracking platform that blends data from multiple apps and devices, it was launched to the public just a few weeks ago. The app tracks your activities, lets you reach fitness goals, and provides a comprehensive view of your fitness and fitness activities like walking, biking, and running. Other fitness devices and apps like Strava and Runkeeper can connect with Google Fit show all data in one place.
How is this changing the face of healthcare? With the average mobile user unlocking and checking their phone 110 times per day, it’s safe to say many people have their phone on them at all times. Google Fit is an easy way to encourage a healthy lifestyle. The app makes it convenient to track fitness, from your walking commute to the office lunch to training for a marathon.
3. Treating illnesses before you know you’re sick
This summer Google X began teaming up with Duke and Stanford Universities for a project called The Baseline Study.
Google’s team of experts are working with 175 volunteers to map how the healthy human body behaves. Each of the participants is examined and has bloods and saliva collected and their DNA sequenced. Family history, information on food digestion, reactions to drugs, heart rates, and other biological data is being collected and collated to define a baseline (hence the study’s name) for “healthy.”
Defining what it means to be healthy makes it easier to detect changes and spot life-threatening diseases before they become dangerous. The Baseline study is hoping to find out how to detect even the slightest and earliest changes to health. The study also hopes to reveal patterns to illness that can allow doctors to pinpoint the earliest stages of disease or potentially even biochemical patterns that indicate an increased likelihood of developing a specific disease.
With the value of the healthcare industry in the U.S. hitting around $3 trillion in 2013, it could be a larger business than both search and media. Google is most certainly focusing attention on improving healthcare for financial gain, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also making worthy improvements to the industry. Which factor—financial gain or social responsibility—is leading their developments, and how much this matters, is a question that begs to be asked.
But what’s crucial here is that Google is taking steps to improve access to a universal necessity—we all need to be healthy, and no one should be denied the tools to keep themselves (or their families) well. What else will the future of Google and healthcare bring?