Dr. Google is in …

By Natalie Murphy, Senior Vice President – August 13, 2015

On your Google searches, have you ever noticed the grouping of facts and images on the right side of the page? Wonder what that is?

It’s known as the “Knowledge Graph,” and it represents Google’s best efforts to move online searches away from focusing on identifying keywords and toward collating valuable content. So rather than retrieving a laundry list of unrelated articles, Google will fulfill a given search with the relevant, related and well-organized information the searcher actually needs.

Pretty cool – right?

Google launched its Knowledge Graph in 2012, touting a system that “understands” facts and information — and how they all connect. And when it came to searches related to authors, actors or sports teams, the Knowledge Graph seemed to deliver on its promise to help users “discover information quickly and easily.”

Unfortunately, the 2012 Knowledge Graph wasn’t delivering so well on health-related searches. When you consider that one in 20 Google searches is health-related[1], that’s a serious shortfall.

Fast-forward to February 2015, when Google announced they would be teaming up with the prestigious Mayo Clinic to curate health-related information via the Knowledge Graph. According to Amit Singhal, Google’s VP in charge of search, this effort was spearheaded in hopes of providing “a framework for a more informed conversation” between patients and their doctors.

Singhal’s focus on the patient-doctor “conversation” is intriguing, given that Google has essentially bred an entire population of self-diagnosers and self-treaters: people who first ask Dr. Google before calling their own doctor; people who research their prescription before deciding to fill it; people who have become so self-empowered through the information at their fingertips that they have (perhaps unwittingly) assumed more personal control of their treatment and recovery than ever before, leaving little of the traditional doctor role intact.

And it’s not just Google — it’s health-specific sites like WebMD and patient-powered networks such as PatientsLikeMe. It’s blogs, Facebook groups and Twitter chats. Digital patient influence is abundant, it’s readily accessible, and it’s well-recognized by the healthcare industry as a significant influence.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute report Healthcare delivery of the future: How digital technology can bridge time and distance between clinicians and consumers, digitally enabled care is a fundamental business imperative. Healthcare companies that do not make effective use of the new digital environment, they charge, “risk not being able to keep pace with changing consumer demands, maintain financial sustainability in an increasingly risk-based reimbursement world and effectively compete with new industry entrants that continue to gain traction.”

If this is indeed the case, what then are the implications for healthcare marketing communications?

For starters, digital engagement is going to be central — even critical — not just a “nice to have.” And by “engagement,” I don’t mean static Facebook posts and online .pdf fact sheets. I mean two-way virtual dialogue, HD video content, animated infographics and physician podcasts. I mean blogger engagement, YouTube channels, disease- and treatment-specific Twitter chats and community forums. I mean a Web experience that is interactive, captivating, rich — and valuable for the patients and caregivers that participate. I mean a real sea change in the “safe” semi-digital status quo.

Just being online is no longer enough — nor is a product web page or downloadable press kit. It’s now a bigger risk not to engage with the digital patient than to do so. A well-calculated risk will inevitably reap reward — for those willing to take the leap.

Any takers?

[1] http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2015/02/health-info-knowledge-graph.html