Google on Tuesday unveiled updates to Search that are designed to make it easier to find affordable health care. The announcement came as part of The Check Up, an annual event put on by the search giant’s health branch. The event also included news on other efforts, including advancements in artificial intelligence projects aimed at increasing health care access.
Notably, Google said it’s aiming to make it easier to find re-enrollment information for Medicaid, a health insurance program for people with limited income, when users open Google to search. During the pandemic, requirements to re-enroll were put on pause, but they go into effect at the end of March.
As PBS reports, when your health care coverage may be affected depends on which state you live in, but you’ll need to confirm your personal information, eligibility requirements and the rest to stay insured. Google says an improved Search update will help with that by making it easier to find renewal information and log in to your state portal.
Finding affordable health care online at free or low-cost clinics may be a little easier. The company promised you’ll soon be able to find and identify such providers when searching online, including community health clinics. Google also said it’s using Duplex, its conversational AI system, to contact health care providers and verify their information posted online.
On the mental health front, Google says it’s increasing the number of crisis helplines at the top of Google searches that relate to suicide, domestic violence and other crises. Through a partnership with ThroughLine, those crisis lines can be found in more countries and languages.
Google also says it’s expanding some of its AI projects with more medical partners with the hopes of increasing health equality by simplifying medical screenings and tools. One of these partnerships is with Jacaranda, a nonprofit in Kenya, with aims to develop simplified ultrasounds with less expensive equipment through AI and improve outcomes for pregnant women and their children. Requiring training for specialists with expensive ultrasound equipment may be a health care barrier in some parts of the world with higher maternal mortality rates.
Further dipping AI into medical diagnostics, Google says the company is partnering with the Mayo Clinic to develop an improved method of “contouring” for radiotherapy used in cancer treatment. Because radiotherapy uses a high dose of radiation to kill cancer cells, careful steps by the health care team must be taken to outline or “contour” the tumor to limit radiation in surrounding parts of the body. Google says its AI will hopefully save the care team time during this process.
A better tuberculosis-screening method and an ultrasound that can detect breast cancer are fellow AI projects of Google — though there’s no timeline yet for when any of them will be available for patients beyond the research stage.
Other heath notes include Google’s update to Fitbit’s health metrics dashboard, as well as Google’s continued work on Med-PaLM, an AI tool designed to answer medical questions and, hopefully, provide reasoning. On Tuesday, Google said that its improved version (the Med-PaLM 2) performed at an expert level and “far exceeds” the passing level on the type of exam you’d need to take before being licensed as a doctor. In a blog post, Google added that more work is needed to “make sure this technology can work in real-world settings.”