Thursday, May 22, 2008

Social Determinants of (Google) Health

Google recently added an interesting new feature to their online empire, Google Health. It has the making of a useful and helpful tool for many people that want a place to keep track of their medical history and required prescriptions. You can enter your personal information, update your existing conditions, and even import your medical history and records from a variety of sources. It can also be used to find a doctor in your area or to seek online medical help.

One area where it is woefully insufficient is on social determinants of health. It would seem a more appropriate name for the site would be Google Medical, because that is its sole focus. The social determinants of health have been found to play a significant and varied role in individual health. Factors that are social determinants of health include things like where you live, what type of social capital the area you live in has, what is inequality like, how much income do you make, what kind of discrimination do you face, etc. However those critical factors are completely absent from Google Health. This reinforces the myopic medical view of health that divorces the health of the individual from the health of others. All health is patterned. Even things we consider random and tragic, like cancer, follow social patterns and gradients across factors like income. Ignoring these issues on a health site is at best ignorant and at worst neglectful of a whole host of factors many people may not be aware of.