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Will Google Health reinvent Pharma Marketing?


Will Google Health reinvent Pharma Marketing?


While many pharmaceutical companies continue to come under scrutiny for aggressive marketing campaigns via Google AdWords, Social Media or SEO, it seems interesting how they might view the future potential of Google Health.

Google Health originally launched to much hype that it would reform health care, but until a refresh last month, it had been stagnant on the market for 2 years. The platform still seems to struggle to be accepted both by consumers, and to be considered a suitable platform by major medical and health companies. The obvious privacy issue revolves around the merging of patient’s health and medical information and sharing parts of this information with selected medical partners and health care providers.

The development might also be slow because commercial partners have to ensure they don’t yet disclose their future commercialisation plans for the platform.


The current Google Health platform seems to have a number of basic issues that they have not managed to overcome, such as their somewhat simplistic medical contacts section. The basic contacts section appears to offer little ability to sort your medical contacts, as most patients may have multiple doctors. Therefore, it’s not that intuitive if you are sharing your account with a nurse or family member.

It is interesting that the medical contacts ‘find a doctor’ section includes a very large number of Australian listings. It includes dental surgeons, specialists, pharmacies and general GPs, while all this data comes direct from Google Places listings. Search features like this appear to show that Google Health may be partially ready to roll out in Australia, with much of the functionality already accessible, but it is being held back. This contradicts the recent ZDnet story that Australia is still waiting for Google Health.


Would you import existing medical records?

While the platform offers ability to link pharmacy health records to Google Health profiles will offer patients some distinct advantages, such as the ability to see medical records and prescription histories and possible complications with medications, who has the most to gain? The commercial benefit for Google Health is currently limited to a number of US health services companies such as CVS Pharmacy, Kmart & Walgreens but this has already created an incentive for people to leave competitors like Rite Aid Pharmacies as they are not yet able to import their records into Google Health. One obvious question is how could Google Health quickly gain ground in Australia where there is much less acceptance of online commerce transactions? And the use of ePrescriptions appear to be resisted by large industry players such as Terry White Chemists, who are avoiding the move to digitise everything. Would it require a push from State or Federal government or would employers need a commercial incentive?

Benefit for first mover advantage?

Business needs to accept that the early adopters or first movers to Google Health will have a larger advantage in the long run to digitise everything. Since these providers can now read your Google health profile, it is a question of when they might start blurring the ethical line by targeted cross promotions based on known medical issues.

Who oversees or verifies listings?

The issue of platforms like Google Health is that they can and will affect a number of the smaller/independent health providers who may not have the resources to offer online profiles for prescription histories. A larger issue of concern is around the lack of transparency of how Google imports its Google Places data on medical providers and doctors in the internal search results. If Google Health is to be taken seriously, what internal safe guards are in place to verify qualifications of medical providers? A Google Places listing can be created in minutes and the doctor search module appears to be a general search box, which leaves it open to spam and manipulation.

Exploring medications & treatments means big $

This is the area where Google health will reshape the pharmaceutical marketing field. As users continue to add more data to their health profile, Google can continue to further optimise and refine the personal health services it offers, with large commercial benefits for their partners. If you have particular long-term medical problems, then advertisers who are able to reach you early in the treatment process will be able to generate a very long-term stream of income for their business.

The platform started to offer suggested medications and treatments does also open a whole treasure trove of legal and moral implications for those listing/advertising within this section. As interest, demands and revenue grows from Google Health users, when might Google start to consider overlooking these privacy issues because they see a large commercial product they can now offer their commercial partners? Just as Google’s slowly creeps in advertising into their products like YouTube or Google Maps, when might users become less of a focus and the shift turns towards pleasing advertisers and shareholders?

Who benefits from full disclosure?

Should users offer Google Health full disclosure of every medical issue, test result, every procedure undertaken during their entire life, and when their medical insurance is due to expire? It is foreseeable that companies, employers may make it a requirement of your employment that you provide unrestricted access to your Google Health records and one day a past health issue or test result may come back to haunt your career progression. It is easy to see that immigration departments and insurance providers will see the place as a gold mine of information if they should process your visa or dispute your insurance claim based on your full disclosure. If you recorded that you didn’t get enough sleep during the last few weeks and you had an accident, a court order could force you disclose your sleep diary which may lead to the discovery of any medications that might lead to a large decrease in the amount you are able to claim.

Security of data?

The issue is about the security of the data if someone else is able to gain access to your health records and add, adjust or quickly publically share your profile with any email address. The ease that your data can be quickly shared with almost anyone that has a valid email address is a major concern for anyone who values their privacy.
How might it affect your work/social life if it was public knowledge that you have insomnia and is treated by higher than recommended doses of Ambien? It’s easy to imagine the type of information that you would want only a doctor to know, such as job related stress requires you to medicate via anti-depressants. Your upcoming promotion might be difficult with those blood pressure issues.

Could Google Health run your life?

It’s easy to see how Google could expand its product set to take over the role of your local dental surgeon who may have previously sent you a reminder card that you are due for a dental checkup. Since you have recorded the date of your most recent checkup and have recently added symptoms of gum pain or sensitivity could Google Health recognise the issue and know to make a booking?

Would it be too hard to imagine Google Health making a booking with a new dentist based on their Google Places ratings, phoning the clinic and making the booking via Google Voice and adding the reminder into your Google Calendar which will send the directions from Google Maps to your Android phone?

It is also not hard to see that once you have seen the dentist, Google Health could even pay for the consultation directly via your Google Checkout then passing the successful transaction data back to the dentists Google Analytics account. Google is already doing lead generation with home loans, so it’s not hard to see this expand to the highly profitable medical industry.

Google health could improve AdWords targeting

In time Google Health can start to potentially recommend to their larger medical advertisers what demographics they should be targeting in Google AdWords in order to reach the best audience. It is easy to see how it can be possible to start to use remarketing on patients based on regular checkups or bad dental history requiring frequent checkups. Travel companies could target Thailand holidays to those who have had their Hepatitis B vaccinations, gluten-free products could be pitched to those who have recorded food allergies and pitches for insurance renewals could be made if your health insurance is just about to expire.

Will Google health offer CPA leads?

As discussed earlier, taking the step forward using a Cost-Per-Acquisition model it is possible that medical providers can begin to nominate how much they are willing to pay for a qualified appointment booking. Drug companies can better understand the medical profile of patients who might be using a competitor’s treatment plan or have reduced levels of medication for treatments.

Google Health is an interesting and possibly very smart platform, but there are serious concerns about the long term commercialisation of the data and transparency of its commercial partners’ intentions in the project.

David Iwanow

With over six years digital marketing experience consulting to Australia's biggest companies and marketing agencies, you can now find David working as a SEO Product Manager at Marktplaats.nl

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