Google Wants to Help You Video Chat with Doctors

Nancy Crotti

October 13, 2014

4 Min Read
Google Wants to Help You Video Chat with Doctors

"Google docs" may be taking on a whole new meaning. Google has begun a trial connecting people seeking online medical advice to a physician or other medical professional for a free live chat.

It is but another example of ways Google has been breaking into the healthcare space.

Google's cofounders may have downplayed that they're interested in turning the tech giant into a healthcare company. But their company sure hasn't been acting that way lately.

While Apple has had some hiccups when it comes to its goals of becoming a go-to place for health tracking and data, Google has made waves with far more focused medical device innovations--not to mention an effort to reverse the effects of aging.

Even Google Glass, better known as an accessory for creepy tech types, is turning out to be a pretty useful tool for surgeons--with Stanford University researchers extolling Glass' benefits in a recent study. 

Here are five recent Google efforts worth keeping an eye on.

The trial, taking place on Google's Hangouts feature, connects people in California and Massachusetts with physicians from at least two healthcare organizations already participating in Hangouts-- California-based One Medical and Scripps Health--among others. The health systems have already vetted the physicians' credentials.

"When you're searching for basic health information-- from conditions like insomnia or food poisoning-- our goal is provide you with the most helpful information available," a Google spokesperson told Qmed. "We're trying this new feature to see if it's useful to people."

Medical information online can be a minefield of misinformation. Google's aim is to make the information more useful and reliable.

The company did not reveal the length of the trial or its pricing model should it make the service available to all Google users.

Web developer Jason Houle of Springfield, MA, was searching for information on knee pain when a prompt came up asking if he wanted to speak with a physician. Houle posted about it on Reddit.

"Based on your search query, we think you are trying to understand a medical condition," Google says in the advice box accompanying the ability to video call a doctor, according to a report in The Guardian. "Here you can find health care providers who you can visit with over video chat."

Google told The Guardian that all video calls to doctors made during the trial will be free to users and covered by Google.

"I don't know exactly how many of our physicians are involved in the trial, but I do know that specialties include primary care providers, nutritionists and mental health professionals," wrote One Medical Group spokesperson Leyl Black. "The experience to date has been positive; the providers have found Helpouts to be pretty easy to use, and the patients have enjoyed the convenience."

Black said she was unsure how many patients have used the trial service, or whether One Medical would disclose that information.

This is the latest of Google's ventures into the health field. Qmed reported in early September that the company announced its acquisition of Lift Labs, a San Francisco startup that makes a spoon to help prevent patients with movement disorders from spilling their food.

Through a partnership with Novartis, Google is seeking to develop and commercialize a contact lens that could help diabetics keep track of their blood glucose levels.

In addition, a recent study out of Stanford University School of Medicine provided early evidence that wearing Google Glass markedly improves a surgeon's abilities. In particular, it boosts their situational awareness and ability to track vital signs in real time, thus improves patient safety as well--especially when anesthesiologists are not present. Stanford is also testing the use of Google Glass to train med students. 

Nancy Crotti is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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About the Author(s)

Nancy Crotti

Nancy Crotti is a frequent contributor to MD+DI. Reach her at [email protected].

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