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Dr. Google – Or at Least a WebMD Replacement

Posted on June 21, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

We’ve all heard the talk about Dr. Google and how it’s the first place many of us reach out to with are various medical issues. Well, Dr. Google (my term, not there’s) is stepping up their game even more with their most recent announcement. Here’s an excerpt of the changes to a Google search for symptoms:

So starting in the coming days, when you ask Google about symptoms like “headache on one side,” we’ll show you a list of related conditions (“headache,” “migraine,” “tension headache,” “cluster headache,” “sinusitis,” and “common cold”). For individual symptoms like “headache,” we’ll also give you an overview description along with information on self-treatment options and what might warrant a doctor’s visit. By doing this, our goal is to help you to navigate and explore health conditions related to your symptoms, and quickly get to the point where you can do more in-depth research on the web or talk to a health professional.

Lest you think this is just Google, they have worked with some actual doctors on their results:

We worked with a team of medical doctors to carefully review the individual symptom information, and experts at Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic evaluated related conditions for a representative sample of searches to help improve the lists we show.

Although, Google did follow that up with a big disclaimer that they’re just a source of information and that it shouldn’t replace consulting a doctor for medical advice. Yeah, Google’s not quite ready to take on the liability of actually giving medical advice. So, take their results with that grain of salt.
Dr. Google
Of course, Google doesn’t have to worry about it. Millions already take their health-related search results with a grain of salt. I’d really say that this update is an algorithm tweak and an interface tweak more than it being a real change to the way Google does things.

If I’m WebMD, I’d be a bit worried by these tweaks by Google. Doesn’t what Google’s doing sound a lot like WebMD? However, I’m sure Google sends a ton of traffic WebMD’s way, so they won’t likely complain about things. At least not for now.

I’m sure most doctors’ reaction to this is likely covered by this coffee cup:
Dr Google - Google Search Replacement for Medical Degree
In response to this mug, e-Patient Dave provides an alternate and important perspective on the balance between an informed patient versus an arrogant, disrespectful patient. Like most things in life, it’s what you do with the information or tool that matters. It can be used for good or bad depending on how you approach it.

All of this said, the patient is becoming more empowered every day. Consumer driven healthcare is here to stay and Dr. Google is going to be one important tool in that toolbox for many patients.

Telehealth, or ‘How to Ditch the Waiting Room’

Posted on February 13, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Ryan Nelson, Director of Business Development for Medical Web Experts.

Navigating the doctor’s office for a non-emergency can feel like getting lost in a quagmire of lengthy routines. For those who choose to forego the experience for as long as possible, haphazardly browsing WebMD in the middle of the night is no better. This could all change soon.

Telemedicine is on the rise as health insurers and employers have become more willing to pay for online video consultations in recent years. Convenience (imagine not having to leave the comfort of your home for every service!) and positive health outcomes – not to mention significant cost savings for both employers and patients – are propelling online video consultations to the forefront of healthcare strategies.

People don’t like driving far, and they don’t like spending 45 minutes in a waiting room only to be discharged in under 15. The average wait time for a doctor’s appointment is 20 days in the US. This is more than enough time to deter patients from booking appointments for conditions that could be minor. Doctors usually don’t get reimbursed for time spent taking phone calls, so they often nix the medium altogether. Virtual doctor visits can fulfill patients’ need for instantaneous advice, closing a potentially dangerous communication gap while opening a new business opportunity for healthcare professionals.

A recent Harris Poll survey commissioned by Amwell found that around 40% of consumers would opt for video appointments for both antibiotics and birth control prescriptions, while at least 70% would rather have an online video visit to obtain a prescription than travel to their doctor’s office. Telehealth also offers a good solution for patients with mobility issues or chronic conditions, and it gives patients and doctors in rural or remote communities more options for receiving and dispensing care.

Health Outcomes
Biomed Central’s systematic review of telehealth service studies revealed that health outcomes for telehealth and in-person appointments are usually similar. About one-third of studies showed improved outcomes and only two indicated that telehealth was less effective. One way that online video appointments can improve health outcomes for the general population is to filter out minor health concerns and free up ER staff to deal with more serious ailments in-house. Additionally, video consultations can make it easier for physicians to track the recovery of discharged patients and to monitor patient adherence in a time-sensitive manner.

Cost Savings
The Amwell survey revealed that 64% of patients are willing to attend virtual appointments, challenging the dated assumption that in-person interactions tend to be perceived as a better experience. Contributing to this popularity is the fact that virtual appointments cost much less than an ER visit and are cheaper than an urgent care center or most face-to-face consults, generally figuring in around $40 to $50.

Biomed Central also found that out of 36 studies, nearly two-thirds showed cost savings for employers and patients. Meanwhile, Towers Watson predicted that the number of employers offering telemedicine will increase by 68% in 2015, which would result in $6B in employer savings.

Consumer Concerns
Consumers are concerned about how doctors can thoroughly examine patients through video, according to Amwell. However, the proliferation of self-monitoring mobile devices that can be used in conjunction with video consultations suggests that doctors may be able to get much of the information they need online. Besides, it can be argued that during most medical appointments a doctor doesn’t have much time to perform a comprehensive examination or truly get to know a patient.

Amwell subjects also questioned how a patient can be certain that he or she is speaking to a real doctor; however, this can easily be addressed by medical web platforms that thoroughly screen physicians and can thus provide adequate proof of their qualifications.

Digital Relationships
Research has shown that online video communication improves patient satisfaction and increases efficiency and access to healthcare for all demographics, at all times. While the medium appeals to people across all age groups, it especially appeals to younger, tech-savvy patients. This demographic tends to prefer instantaneous communication for non-emergencies and is generally comfortable communicating despite physical distance.

Consumers already use technology to communicate with their friends and families. Finally, doctors – another one of every person’s most intimate relationships – can join the ranks.

Towers Watson

Don’t Count on Your EMR to Master Patient Engagement

Posted on November 14, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

So said one tweet in the recent stream from the Health IT Leadership Summit, an event I’ve been heavily involved in organizing for the last 10 months.


That particular statement came from the morning keynote by Jeff Arnold, CEO of Sharecare. Arnold, who also founded WebMD, spoke to the power of social networking and analytics as part of a broader patient engagement strategy. It was a sentiment expressed in nearly every session I attended that day, by hospital and vendor executives alike.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by the importance engagement played in the Summit’s sessions and networking discussions. It’s certainly the topic du jour of industry media and seems to weigh heavily on the minds of healthcare providers. Everyone wants to know, how do we do this? How can we get patients to truly engage, beyond tracking a few numbers on the latest digital health gizmo? How can we get providers to engage as well? Sending and receiving secure emails is great, but effective patient engagement that directly affects outcomes could be so much more than that.


If sessions and conversations at the Summit were any indication, the key will be to combine traditional patient data (like that found in an EMR), with data mined from social networks, and then filter that through big data tools for predictive analysis. Much easier written or tweeted about than achieved, I assume, but it’s a positive sign all the same.


That’s very true, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a CIO who says they DON’T care. After listening to several hospital executives speak at the Summit, I got the impression that they care immensely, but aren’t quite sure where to turn for technology and processes that will enable their organizations to interpret engagement data into actionable knowledge.

Take a look Storified Twitter insight from the Summit via “#HealthITSummit Sessions Spotlight Social’s Role in Patient Engagement,” and then let me know via the comments below which healthcare organizations seem to be heading in the right direction when it comes to social analytics and patient engagement.