Tablet with Google browser on the screen

Google Health is “building products to empower people with the information they need to act on their health."

During Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech 2022, we were fortunate to be joined by two Google Health executives, Megan Jones Bell, PsyD, and Ivor Horn, MD. Dr. Bell is the Clinical Director of Consumer and Mental Health, and Dr. Horn is the Director of Health Equity and Product Inclusion. We discussed Google Health’s strategy, how the digital health industry is changing, how to wire digital health products for inclusion, and their hope for the future of digital health.

Background

Google Health explains that they are “building products to empower people with the information they need to act on their health. We’re developing technology solutions to enable care teams to deliver more connected care. And we’re exploring the use of artificial intelligence to assist in diagnosing cancer, preventing blindness, and much more.” Google houses multiple companies, including Google Search, Youtube, and Fitbit, and each of these tools offers many specific services for consumers, caregivers, communities, and researchers. One of the tools they provide for consumers is clinically validated self-assessments available through Google Search for conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and postpartum depression. 

Source: Google

Dr. Jones Bell recently published a blog where she discussed Google Health’s resources and how they analyze Google Search terms to give them more information. Searches for “mental health therapist” and “mental health help” reached record highs in 2022. And searches for “local rehab centers near me” have also reached record highs in the past few months. Google has a Recover Together page where people can find information about rehab centers, fentanyl overdose, and the importance of naloxone. Some Fitbit devices also offer apps for breathing exercises. Additionally, The University of Oregon is partnering with Google Health Studies to study how smartphones impact wellbeing.

Digital Health Industry

Before Dr. Jones Bell was an executive at Google, she was one of the earliest leaders in digital health with roles at Lantern and Headspace. She has seen the industry grow and change. We wanted to hear her perspective on where the industry has been and where it’s going. She reflected that “investment has historically come from two ends of the spectrum first, with some investment in telehealth solutions and in self-help apps. So largely CBT or mindfulness, things that are evidence-based but appropriate to do yourself. And I think over the last three to five years, we’ve seen more filling in in the middle so more connected services that bridge different levels of care, that integrate across the spectrum.” As we see more innovation in this middle section of the spectrum, digital health can become more cohesive across all aspects of care.

She continues, “these moments of care transitions [are] really where we see people fall through the cracks. So seeing more investment across these levels of care…more of these integration investments, I think are really important for our industry to actually, sustainably make a health impact on users, not just meet them in this fragmented, ad hoc way, as individual point solutions, so there’s a key maturing point for the industry.”

Inclusion

As the Director of Health Equity and Product Inclusion, Dr. Horn thinks about integrating inclusivity into Google’s tools. Dr. Horn explains, “for example, when we think about Search and we think about food insecurity—because health is beyond specifically healthcare—we want to make sure that when someone searches for food, they are also finding food pantries or grocery stores near them that are affordable.” Google Search can be a really powerful tool when built for all users.

Dr. Jones Bell notes room for improvement where there are limitations of Google and the industry as a whole. She talks about the industry’s ability to provide information about conditions such as anxiety and depression and Search’s ability to populate relevant information. “When you start to get more specific [such as looking into schizophrenia warning signs], we realize that our ability to help people is fairly thin, as an industry overall.” There has been recent excitement about SMI funding, which shows promise, but as an industry, we still have a ways to go.

As we think about inclusion, we also discussed the interplay between tech vs. touch and how digital health can strike a balance between the two. Dr. Jones Bell expresses that they try to approach health in three ways: 

  • Through consumers: “Meeting people where they are in everyday moments.”
  • Through care teams: “Supporting community with data, resources, and tools.”
  • Through community health: “supporting communities with data, resources, and tools.”

Dr. Horn echoes that a focus of Google Health is “meeting people where they are with the resources we can provide.

Hope for the Future

The digital health field has taken many strides, but what do we want the future to look like? Dr. Horn says, “My hope for digital health in the future is that we just call it health, and it is a part of what we do. And that we are building for everyone, everywhere.” Digital health is steadily becoming ubiquitous, but we must ensure that we are creating inclusive products and platforms accessible to all. Dr. Jones Bell agrees and says, “My thesis for digital health has always been: improve access, affordability, and effectiveness for people.”  

As we look to the future of digital health, we’re glad leaders like Dr. Horn and Dr. Jones Bell are in charge.

You can watch Dr. Horn and Dr. Jones Bell’s session here.

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