Google Offers Broad Strokes at HIT Summit Last Week

WASHINGTON—Those who came to the Fourth Health Information Technology Summit seeking a definitive statement or perhaps a much-anticipated product announcement from Google strategy in healthcare did not get what they wanted, but at least they left with a better sense of where the Mountain View, Calif., Internet-search leader might be heading.

In his keynote address to the small gathering at a Capitol Hill hotel last week, Google vice president Adam Bosworth said that the company is focused on how to connect people to information. “We want to help out as much as we can so that people can get better healthcare before, during, and after treatment,” according to Bosworth.

Bosworth also followed a key tenet of showbiz: Always leave them wanting more. He and his entourage left without taking questions from reporters and without addressing reports that a simplified personal health record — perhaps called Google Scrapbook — could surface later this year. Nor did Bosworth expound on comments he made several months ago, when he said that sick people should have a “health URL” for caregivers to share information and discuss treatment options.

Mostly, Bosworth sought answers on the best ways to evaluate data for relevance in healthcare. “We’d love to get help [from] this audience and from other people in figuring that out,” Bosworth said at last week’s meeting. “To be blunt, the only way that we actually know how to provide relevant information is to start asking some questions.”

Bosworth used the phrase “Google health team” to describe the people working with him and noted that Google has “a few doctors” on staff and has been asking questions of physicians for at least the last six months, trying to find ways to navigate the volumes of medical literature on the Internet.

Bosworth said that Google users are asking four kinds of questions in healthcare: What might be wrong with them? What information is relevant to their conditions? Who can help treat an illness? How can patients with chronic diseases live with and manage their conditions?

“It is astonishingly hard to find that information,” Bosworth said. “And honestly, we don’t know how to answer these four questions just yet.”

Even though more and more people are being told to research the number of times a physician or hospital has performed a certain procedure, that information is not readily available to the average consumer. “We’d like to deliver that,” Bosworth said.

According to Bosworth, “Search is a really good tool for finding relevant information.”

But in healthcare, information can be relevant and popular but also wrong. He said that the accuracy has improved since Google launched of Google Co-op last year, which lets experts tag search results for others to consult. (See “Google Co-op for Health Gets Boost from PHR Expert Kibbe.”)

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