Google Says: Your Health Outcomes
The world is full of questions and Google has the answers. If I don’t know the answer, I Google it. My friends and colleagues Google practically everything. Gone are the days of encyclopedias and library searches. Who has time to sit down and pore over books, articles, and journals when with a few clicks on a keyboard the world opens up to us? We have allowed technology into our personal spaces, read cautionary tales of devices listening in on our conversations, yet we continue to seek easier more advanced ways to solve problems. How many stop and think about the digital footprints we leave on the web? What is the potential for harm when Google googles you?
Google has created a software program that can predict patient outcomes, including how long people may stay in hospitals, their odds of and chances they soon will die. 1 The program is capable of sifting through notes and files on a patient. It can find notes scribbled on the side of a chart, lost hospital admissions, surgeries, and medical care. It takes into account previous health outcomes and current health. Many in the medical field see the potential in this program. I believe there is some good that will come from a comprehensive database, but I worry about consent and the use of this information.
Google’s program will be accessing available medical records, notes on PDF’s or jotted down on old records. With a database so vast and the potential for a thorough medical history, I believe not only will the program be welcomed by those in the medical field, but quickly adopted. A comprehensive medical file increases a patient’s chances of targeted treatment and could decrease hospitals stays as well as unnecessary treatments, but at what cost to their privacy? I don’t believe a patient will read an all-inclusive form thoroughly and fully understand what they are signing. Will there be a person available to answer questions and ensure a patient understands the consent form? What if the patient is admitted to the hospital and it is an emergency or the patient is unconscious? Will Google’s medical program be used with implied consent? Should people create a Do Not Google Me form?
The use of information must be considered. The medical possibilities are exciting. The potential to cure, prevent, or give a person time to determine how they want to spend their end days can be a great benefit to the health field. I wonder though, how will insurance companies use this information? The ease of access and connectivity to Google’s predictions is unknown. Google needs to consider how they will protect the patient from an insurance company’s Quality-adjusted life year (QALY). A person’s idea of what is a good life adjusts as we grow older, face the effects of injuries and illness. The individuals' definition of a good life may not be the same as an insurance company’s idea of what is good. My worry is if the insurance company has access to Google’s program predictions, would the insurance company deny or block access to medical care based on cost-effectiveness?
The ability to access and forecast a person’s health is wonderful and scary. The lives it could help or save is a benefit, but the potential harm is why caution must be used. I welcome the benefits central database that can forecast cures and treatments, but remain cautious about the potential harms. Is there a clear solution to this technology? Unfortunately, I can’t Google the answer.
1. Bergan, Mark, “Google Is Training Machines To Predict When a Patient Will Die,”Bloomberg, (June 18, 2018). Accessed July 5, 2018.