Docs share mixed thoughts on Google's online medical data

Google recently announced it's updating its health conditions feature to cover with information on more than 900 diseases, providing quick at-a-glance info on symptoms, treatment and more.

The effort will more than double the offerings in the feature, which it unveiled in February, according to a Google blog post. A recent spike in searches for information on Legionnaire's disease illustrates the kind of information people are looking for, the post, by product manager Prem Ramaswami, says.

Kapil Parakh, a cardiologist and former assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, led the effort, and Google says the information also will be checked by doctors at the Mayo Clinic.

Still, some doctors tend to worry that patients' online research will only leave them more confused. Time magazine asked six doctors what they think of the initiative.

Here's what three of those doctors had to say:

  • Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center: "... Like it or not, that's where people are going for health information. It's the future. Making it better and vetting it by doctors is a good idea. ... People just need to remember that this is meant to aid them, but it's not a substitute for healthcare."
  • William A. Bornstein, chief medical officer and chief quality officer at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta: "As always, the devil will be in the details. Unintended consequences will be inevitable, but can be minimized if Google is committed to measuring the outcomes from the use of this tool and using the outcomes data to inform iterative cycles of improvement of the tool."
  • Ami Bhatt, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program: "While its always important for patients to be informed, the most important facet of these advances in information dissemination is patient and physician engagement. A doctor needs to be willing and interested in the barrage of information that the patient may want to discuss with them."

Online health information can empower patients and even shift the balance of power between patients and their doctors, a June article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research concluded.

Research from Brigham and Women's Hospital found that online content on specific medical issues and Web-based tools that enhance communication between patients and providers can help users gain a deeper understanding of care and boost patient satisfaction.

To learn more:
- read the Time article
- find the Google blog post

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