Thursday, October 18, 2007

Enterprise Thinking about Health Services

Marissa Meyer is in good company. According to Eric Auchard's Reuters report, Google's vice president of Search Products & User Experience addressed the Web 2.0 Summit on the subject of her company's efforts to deal with health information products, saying the following:

We do have a broad interest in this area. It will start with search.

By saying this, she has at least implied that health care is an industry in dire need of enterprise software, beginning with better capabilities for search. I would argue that this aggravates a misunderstanding of the nature of health care that would best be compared with President George W. Bush's misunderstanding of education by characterizing it as a civil right. The two of them make a lovely couple as together they bungle the two most critical service offerings in our country.

At least Ms. Meyer has an excuse: It is her job to see to the revenue stream of her company, particularly where search is involved. Like it or not, just about every player in health care (hopefully with the exception of those who actually face patients, who always seem to get pushed into the background by the other players) seems hell-bent on making an industry out of it. Once again, the concept of a "public trust" seems outmoded, or at least too old-fashioned to satisfy everyone's pursuits of profit and growth. Some of the attempts to reform health care have tried to restore this public-trust status to both the institutions and the professionals who work there; but, given the political context (which is to say, the influence of special interests) in which any efforts at reform will take place, those attempts are likely to be the first to be swept off the table as infeasible. Meanwhile, a rich company is positioning itself to get rich by becoming a player in whatever reforms do take place while promoting their activities as being in the best interests of the general public by keeping that public better informed.

Still, I suppose the Web 2.0 Summit was the right place for Ms. Meyer to make this sort of pitch. Well-informed columnists such as Caroline McCarthy and Ellen Goodman have already written eloquently about how a fire-hose of search results and hyperlinks does not necessarily make for a better informed public; and I still appreciate Ms. McCarthy providing us with the "era of gullibility 2.0" epithet. However, just as the Web 2.0 evangelists could do little more than wallow in misconceptions when Kathy Sierra was receiving her death threats, they can now do the same with the health care crisis; and those most likely to be victims of this crisis are also those lease likely to be served by Web 2.0 thinking.

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