Google rolls out new search tools for health information on Medicare services, languages spoken by providers

Google is introducing new search features to make finding health information more accessible.

Announced Thursday in a blog post by Hema Budaraju, director of Google Search's social impact division, the additions make it easier for patients to seek out doctors near them that fulfill their individual needs, addressing questions like whether a provider accepts Medicare or what languages that provider speaks.

According to a 2019 study, while 3 in 4 U.S. adults look for health information online, the majority experience frustration with accessing that information, with older adults expressing more frustration than their younger counterparts.

The new search features build upon the tech behemoth’s efforts to offer “timely and authoritative” health information to empower people in their healthcare journeys, Budaraju wrote.

When searching for a new provider on their phones, according to the blog post, patients on Medicare can now choose to filter out all providers that don’t accept Medicare, allowing them to browse only offices in their area that promise coverage.

Healthcare professionals can also include the languages spoken at their offices in their Google profiles, allowing patients to seek out providers that can communicate in their language of choice. Providers can claim and update their Google business profiles, and the company plans to conduct regular checks to ensure information about local clinics is up to date.

In addition, providers can claim and update their Google business profiles to include or change details about their hours and available services. The updates signal more to come for Google Health and Search in 2022, according to a Google spokesperson.

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The features augment other health-related consumer tools introduced by the company this year, including labeling COVID-19 vaccination sites on Google Maps and offering self-assessments for mental health conditions like anxiety and depression through Google Health.

While the tech giant previously took a siloed approach to healthcare, the company has focused this year on weaving health efforts into its existing business lines.

Despite two reorgs in the Google Health division this summer and loss of department chief David Feinberg, M.D., to Cerner, Chief Health Officer Karen DeSalvo, M.D., said at HLTH 2021 this October that the company isn’t scaling back its healthcare efforts, but is simply adopting a broader strategy.

“I want people to understand—from the moment I walked in the door, my remit, my work, has been not only to think about how we’re going to help the healthcare sector but what are we going to do to see that there’s authoritative information on all of our platforms,” she said. “It’s quite frankly one of the things that’s been most exciting to me about the company because we know that we can reach literally billions of people and give them good information to help them make better choices about their health or to navigate their care journey.”