Google: We’re considering altering our search algorithm for health information

Google’s ambitious plan to change how it displays healthcare information is a major shift in how health information is searched and used online. But Google’s product manager on the project hinted it’s only the beginning. Product manager Prem Ramaswami said on Monday that Google will likely alter its search algorithm specifically around health information sometime in […]

Google’s ambitious plan to change how it displays healthcare information is a major shift in how health information is searched and used online. But Google’s product manager on the project hinted it’s only the beginning.

Product manager Prem Ramaswami said on Monday that Google will likely alter its search algorithm specifically around health information sometime in the future.

“As of this moment? No,” Ramaswami said, when asked directly about changes to the cryptic and powerful algorithm that determines what appears first in your search queries. “But it’s something we’re interested in.”

It’s not uncommon for Google to tweak the algoithm. But doing so sends shock waves through whatever industry is effected. Google also does massive upgrades. For example, Google’s “Penguin” update was meant to better filter out sites manipulating Google’s system for ranking search results.

Ramaswami didn’t elaborate on Google’s plans to tweak the algorithm for health – and MedCity had an excruciatingly short 30 minutes with the team overseeing the new project. But it was clear from the discussion the algorithm change was of interest.

If Google does tweak its algorithm for health searches, perhaps its should focus on local data.

Amanda Bury, director of enterprise sales for healthcare at SIM Partners, a SaaS and content management system provider based in Chicago, noted:  “Healthcare is seen as the messiest when it comes to local data.”

Bury, who is not connected with new Google health efforts, noted that more people are becoming insured and thus more are taking their queries online. Those consumers want information from local, or at least physical, places like the Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic or another academic medical center.

“Do I want to read about measles from my local hospital, or do I want to read it from a third party like Dr. Laura Smith?” Bury said. “It’s about that localized information.”

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