Click for a doctor on your Google search

Oct 14, 2014 | Biz/Tech


Google is said to be testing a feature offering medical advice on video chat.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Vick Karunakaran

Paging Dr. Google … you’re needed for a video chat.

The search engine giant Google is testing a video chat function that allows users to call a doctor.

While any savvy user finds out early on that medical advice on the Internet can be unreliable and misleading, convenience can unfortunately trump accuracy.

High-speed Internet and the ubiquity of handheld devices have driven up the popularity of on-demand services appealing to a connected population.

But using webcams in lieu of stethoscope is not new. Some medical marijuana clinics and mental health professionals in Canada already use the Skype video conferencing services to interact with patients.

A policy for telemedicine is currently getting drafted, Kathryn Clarke, spokeswoman for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), told Humber News.

According to CPSO, telemedicine as the practice of medicine using information communication technologies to provide or assist in the provision of patient care at a distance.

Telemedicine “has benefits when used appropriately of increasing access to care,” said Clarke. It can provide greater access to people in the rural communities.

“Our policy doesn’t speak to what Google is doing,” said Clarke. Instead it outlines what is expected of physicians who practice telemedicine.

Humber News reached out to Google for details but a response was not immediately available.

The company, however, confirmed it was running a trial program offering video chats with doctors, according to Engadget.

A Google spokesperson told Gizmodo in a separate statement, “…our goal is provide you with the most helpful information available. We’re trying this new feature to see if it’s useful to people.

A reddit user posted a screengrab of the new option on Google Hangout. Credit: Jason Houle/Reddit

A reddit user posted a screengrab of the new Google option on Reddit.
Credit: Jasonhoule/Reddit

It can benefit patients, physicians and other health care providers…by improving access to care, and increasing efficiencies in the delivery of care, the CPSO draft stated.

“Telemedicine is the practice of medicine,” said Clarke, adding a physician’s legal and professional obligation are not altered simply because care is provided via telemedicine.

All doctors in Ontario are required to be members of the College in order to practice medicine. CPSO regulates the practice of medicine to protect and serve the public interest.

The existing Telemedicine policy is getting amended and is still in its draft form, said Clarke. It will be revised based on the feedback CPSO receives after the current review.

The CPSO policy will highlight the need for the protection of privacy and confidentiality of a patient by the use of a particular technology, Clarke said.

The physician is responsible for ensuring whatever technology they use, she said. The policy only provides a broad set of guidance and expectations.

Clarke told Humber News the Telemedicine policy will be finalized in the coming few months.

“The premise you should keep in mind is that…acting in the patient’s best interest would be paramount,” Clarke said.