Google and Wal-Mart diagnose $4 trillion health care market

Summary:Can the world's largest search engine and the world's largest retailer solve the nation's health care problems?The U.

Can the world's largest search engine and the world's largest retailer solve the nation's health care problems?

The U.S. health care market is projected to be a $4 trillion one by 2015.

Google Vice President Adam Bosworth and Wal-Mart Vice Chairman John Menzer are personally invested in seeking to improve the health care delivery system with the use of information technology, while improving their companies' bottom lines.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, the two top execs yesterday reinforced corporate commitments to digital solutions for enhancing the delivery of medical services.

Bosworth is reaching out to users for advice on the "hard problem" of using Google Search to find and evaluate health care information.

Isn’t it strange that you can find out a lot about a restaurant on the web or about a movie, but not about a doctor? In fact you usually don’t even know who to go to and just accept whoever your general practitioner recommends? You clearly don’t just eat at restaurants other restaurants recommend, even though you might take it into account. Now admittedly there is a difference here. When it comes to food, you know what you like and the worst that can happen is you don’t like it. But when it comes to your health you may not know what is best, and you can’t necessarily tell if we’re getting the best possible care. Still, here is a common situation: You’ve been diagnosed. Your primary care physician and you have discussed it and it is clear that you need a specialist and your doctor has referred you to one, but you’re wondering how you know who is the best out there for you. How do you know whether they cover your insurance? How do you find them? Today, often you just take your doctor’s referral.

Menzer is making a $1 million Wal-Mart commitment to create a University of Arkansas and Blue Cross Blue Shield research center "aimed at identifying and addressing gaps and roadblocks in the application and delivery of health information technology, and replicating proven applications that are working to benefit patients and providers":

The goal of the Center for Innovation in Health Care Logistics will be to put the right materials in the hands of doctors and nurses where and when they need them; It also aims to eliminate the threat of medical errors arising from wasteful and unreliable practices in health care supply networks.

The Center's work will help fill a large information gap in the health care system. "The best example of this need was Huricane Katrina. Medical records, entire family histories, were gone in an instant, and the entire region is still recovering from this massive loss of information."

The "always low-prices" Wal-Mart wants information technology-based systems to bring "visibilty and tracking to every level of health care procurement and distribution":

Experience shows that such transparency leads to significant cost savings by eliminating duplication and confusion, enhancing collaboration among participating organizations and avoiding mistakes that can lead to dangerous errors.

The "organize the world's information" Google wants individual, dedicated online databases to record and store personal data pertianing to "every single medical and health-related event" for effortless retrieval and sharing, as Bosworth evangelized last December, a Google Health URL.

What else do $144 billion market cap Google and $194 billion market cap Wal-Mart want to accomplish in the high-stakes, big money health care market?

Wal-Mart:

$4 generic prescription program in all of its U.S. pharmacies,
Dossia organization to provide framework for private electronic personal health records,
"Better Health Care Together" campaign for "four common sense principles for achieving a new American health care system by 2012."

Google:

We have tried to enlist the help of the health community to help us know which links contain medically reliable information, sift these reliable links so that they tend to show up relatively earlier in the search results, and then let you decide which groups in the health community you trust. If you go to Google and type in [Lipitor], for example, and then you click on the “For patients” link and look carefully, you’ll see that the search results often include at the bottom the word “Labeled By,” followed by words like NLM and HON. NLM stands for the National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medical library, and HON stands for Health on the Net Foundation, an organization which is in the business of certifying web sites with health content that is reliable. These are organizations that have marked the part of the web that this link in the search results points to as medically reliable. It seems that we at Google may not have done a great job of making this clear enough. Unfortunately, many of you either don’t notice these words when you’re searching about health questions at Google or have no idea what they mean. Clearly, we can do better at making this kind of labeling noticeable.

Lipitor manufacurer Pfizer, and Lipitor resellers, however, have no problem being noticeable at Google.com.

Liptor official Web site: Number one AdWords position and number one SERP rank,
Lipitor retailers: Seven out of eight AdWords "Sponsored Links" slots.

How much is the pharmaceutical industry estimated to have spent in 2006 on consumer advertising? Over $5 billion.

The market for Electronic Health Records is also pegged at about $5 billion, by 2015, according to Kalorama Information.

Google's interest in the Electronic Medical Records (EMR) market is well-timed.

Bruce Carlson, associate publisher, Kalorama Information:

The best type of market is one with a guaranteed pool of new customers, and that describes the EMR market in the U.S. Budgeted IT spending by healthcare organizations in 2007 and 2008 will create a robust marketplace for both existing players in EMR and new entrants.

If most healthcare entities had already adopted an EMR system, it could be said that current market leaders should remain in their market share positions. But because there is only a 23% EMR adoption rate in the U.S., the current list of top companies may not reflect the list we will see in 2015. (as cited by Healthcare IT News)

Google and Wal-Mart are undoubtedly working their hardest to ensure they will make their respective marks in the multi trillion dollar U.S. health care market well before 2015.

ALSO: Google Health URL trumped by Steve Case? and Microsoft to battle Google in online healthcare and Google’s Ten Commandments

Topics: Health

About

A former ZDNet blogger, Donna Bogatin is the founder of online directional media properties VIPOffers.com and UrbanSavings.com. In addition to her own ventures, Donna has been advising companies on Web-based business development since 1997, when she created and led an "Internet For Entrepreneurs" workshop for the Small Business Administra... Full Bio

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.