Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dear Mayo, Now let's look at your MS Google ad

A few days ago, I asked if the Mayo clinic was exercising any kind of quality control over Google health care search results, which are reportedly now part of a joint venture between the two companies.  As noted on the official Google Blog:

All of the gathered facts represent real-life clinical knowledge from these doctors and high-quality medical sources across the web, and the information has been checked by medical doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic for accuracy.

Following that post, E-Patient Dave deBronkart offered a remarkable comment that dramatically expanded on my points. He noted:

Something is very wrong here, and after 15 minutes of digging, so far it smells to me like Google is playing fast and loose with the Mayo name. It almost seems willful to me, because Google is VERY conscious (at an expert level) of the power of what people see first. 

The wording "checked by Mayo" is fishy - as you say, it doesn't stipulate what that means, and as I say, Google is fully aware of the power of what meets a reader's eyes first.

Today over on Twitter, Elin Silveous (@ElinSilveous) pointed out another serious misrepresentation with regard to Multiple Sclerosis. Posting a screen shot (like that seen here) from her Google search, she noted:

More questionable Google health search: MS 200,000-3 Million U.S. cases/year. Not! 

I did a little research and reviewed the National MS Society website, where I found the following answer after the question, "How many people have MS?"

More than 2.3 million people are affected by MS worldwide (my emphasis.)

Veronica Combs (@vmcombs) watching this tweet fest, responded:

Interesting. But I suspect Google's motive is to increase targeted ad opps, not educate consumers.

Well, maybe so.  But this issue here really isn't Google, is it?  It is that Mayo Clinic is allowing its name and reputation to be used in a manner inconsistent with the high standard of medical knowledge and care for which it is rightly known. The search clearly says, "Sources: Mayo Clinic and others."  Mayo's business deal with Google gets it top billing on all these millions of searches. Google, in turn, gets the imprimatur of the Mayo name.

The question remains:  What's up?  Who's in charge of this over at Mayo? Why are they letting this happen?


pheski said...

My advice to Mayo: Remember that if you go to bed with dogs, you will wake up with fleas.

If Mayo partners with Google and thinks they will have the upper hand, they are not as smart as a fifth grader.

Naomi Price said...

Oh dear. My guess: Google paid an intern or a content-by-the-second writer (cheap freelancer) to boil down information on the Mayo site. Said person did a dreadful job, to the point of being borderline harmful. I suspect Mayo didn't review the information before Google posted it. What a shame, since Mayo does a decent job on its own site.

I have MS, so this isn't academic to me. Thanks for calling Mayo, and Google, out.

Jason Glass said...

From Facebook:

Slightly off topic, but there should be some sort of legal guidelines for acceptable ranges. 200,000 - 3,000,000? That's a factor of 15, and should automatically set off a bullish*t detector.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree. Counseling patients on choices (they are still the final arbiters of their care) is difficult enough with scientifically valid data without having to deal with DTC and internet advertising/ anecdotal misperceptions as well. rjr (a practicing gastroenterologist)

Thomas said...

Mayo and Google do this because they can and it makes $$$ for both. I appreciate the fact that you dig into these matters. I fear our ethical system is on the way out, being replaced with situational ethics. If it feels good it is OK now. Starts at the top.

LeeAase said...

My post in response this morning.

Paul Levy said...

Perhaps the context for Lee's response would be made more clear if Mayo and/or Google disclosed the natural of the financial arrangement between them, if there is one.

What does he mean when he says that "These Knowledge panels aren't ads," in that they clearly promote the Mayo name (and none other) when you see a search result. If it looks like an ad, smells like an ad, and feels like an ad, it's an ad.

In addition, prominent placement of the Mayo name gives the reader the impression that Mayo has endorsed the material therein, not just for inclusion, but--as in the case of the robotic surgery--for emphasis.

It seems like Mayo wants to have it both ways. "It's ours but its not ours." "We helped, but we're not responsible, even though our name's on it." This attitude seems to me to be quite at variance with the high regard with which many of us hold Mayo Clinic.

Thanks for clarifying the four classes of disease prevalence. Those classes were not immediately obvious to readers. Note that I came upon the MS item because of a comment from an MS-knowledgable person.

nonlocal MD said...

My perception: Dr. Aase is so intent on defending Mayo's position and putting down Mr. Levy that he misses the point: why is Mayo associating itself with Google in the first place?

I, for one, am VERY tired of having to be cynical about medicine and everyone in it due to the ubiquity of ulterior motives these days. This is not the profession I joined 42 years ago.

nonlocal MD said...

To follow up on my previous comment, a quote from Abraham Verghese, who understands what practicing medicine is all about. What happened to this, Lee Aase? Forget your money and your brand.

" I make rounds with third-year medical students on Wednesdays and Fridays at Stanford and at the Palo Alto VA hospital. And in each case I want to convey to them, without saying anything per se, a sense of this being hallowed ground. You’re entering sacred space and given the great privilege to see people in distress and to treat."