Will Google Replace Pharmacists as Drug Information Experts?

OCTOBER 11, 2015
Google a common condition like diabetes, hypertension, or heart failure. Did you notice the sidebar with health information?
 
Many patients turn to the Internet to find information on almost anything, including health problems. Patients are apt to realize that they can find a lot of information online related to their health concerns, such as drug information, questions about diseases that they hear on the news (e.g. Ebola), and searches for other’s experiences.
 
Ease of access to the Internet from mobile devices has arguably reduced the digital divide that many patients faced for years when it came to accessing information on the go. Patients now have Google in their pockets, so they can look up health information at any time.
 
Google’s so-called health cards may have been inevitable based on the number of health-related searches it has received throughout the years. Seeking to give searchers access to validated health information upfront is a good step.
 
Looking at Google’s disease cards, you can see that a lot of the information is pulled from the Mayo Clinic and other reputable sources. Even drug information is included with references to the likes of the National Library of Medicine and Micromedex.
 
Google is simply collating and putting information in front of its search results that other health organizations and companies have built up over the years. Currently, the information is rather basic, but the key points are listed.
 
This information can also be printed and shared with the patient’s health care providers. But, the inevitable question is, where else will this go?
 
Walgreens is currently partnered with PatientsLikeMe to help its customers gauge what other patients have experienced with similar treatments. Will Google follow its lead and partner with other health-oriented companies to collect and showcase health information?

For pharmacy, the issue is whether patients in the future will still turn to pharmacists with questions about their treatment. I fear the day when we try to counsel patients and they say they can “just look it up later.”
 
Years ago, pharmacists could decry the health information on the Internet, but seeing how quickly the digital health sphere is moving now, that may no longer be a sound argument.
 
I think pharmacists have a lot to offer, but I think basic drug information may not be a bastion for us in the future. Patients will come to us with tougher questions (essentially things they cannot find online) or seek help with sorting out contradictory information.
 
Google is empowering patients and expanding their knowledge, but pharmacists can still help patients sort through and understand what they are finding online. I think that will be the key difference in the future.

Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an associate professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at TheDigitalApothecary.com, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.
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