Google adds appointment scheduling tool to search engine

Google is introducing a search feature to help patients find open appointments at nearby medical practices, the tech giant said Thursday at its second annual The Check Up event.

Upon launch, the feature will first let users view open appointments at CVS MinuteClinics. Providers can add their availability to their Google business profiles for free through scheduling tools by Kyruus and Stericycle Communications Solutions.

Clicking on available appointments will send patients to the practice’s website to complete the booking.

“We’re just getting started with a few early partners, and we’re excited about making your health journey easier,” said Hema Budaraju, senior director of product, health and search social impact at Google, during Thursday’s event.

The addition builds on search features that the company announced in December aimed at increasing the accessibility of health information.

Those tools added markers on Google business profiles to address patient questions like whether a provider accepts Medicare or what languages that provider speaks.

At the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Global Conference in Orlando last week, CEO and founder of b.well Connected Health Kristen Valdes jokingly called provider directories “the root of all evil in healthcare” during a presentation on digital health strategies for health systems.

The process of matching patients with providers must be redesigned for modern consumer demands, Valdes said, allowing patients to search for the things they care about like the languages the provider speaks, whether they offer telemedicine and if they have open appointments.

“It’s actually a cultural shift to get doctors onto open scheduling, to open up your schedules and allow consumers to come in because the time for people picking up the phone is gone,” she said.

Google discussed multiple other health initiatives during its Thursday presentation. The company had previously said it would ramp up investments in health-centered initiatives after unwinding its unified health division last August.

The tech company mentioned several research projects leveraging artificial intelligence tools to detect signs of illness.

Building on a prior Google Health program that analyzed clinical captures of the interiors of patient eyes to screen for diseases like diabetic retinopathy, the company is working on tools that can use external photos of the eye taken by smartphone cameras to identify potential illnesses.

The company also said it’s currently testing the potential for built-in microphones in smartphones to record a patient’s heart rate when pressed to the chest.

That research will initially focus on designing algorithms to detect heartbeats and murmurs, with the long-term goal of using phone microphones to identify patients at risk of heart valve disorders like aortic stenosis.

In addition, Google has partnered with Northwestern Medicine to develop AI tools to improve maternal health outcomes with a focus on ultrasound diagnostics.

“Uneven access to care can lead to unnecessary harm to birthing parents and their babies,” said Ivor Horn, M.D., director of health equity and social determinants of health at Google, noting that 50% of birthing parents in developing countries never get an ultrasound.