Tech

Google will guide users to virtual doctor's visits through Search and Maps

Key Points
  • Google is making it easier for consumers to access virtual medical care options, via Search and Maps. 
  • It is also working to help doctors get up to speed with phone and video-based consultations. 
  • The company has said it's seen a dramatic increase in interest for virtual care and telemedicine since the COVID-19 pandemic.
A doctor stands in front of two 3D-reconstructed lung models of a newly diagnosed coronavirus pneumonia patient during a 5G long-distance consultation at the First Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University on March 2, 2020 in Kunming, Yunnan Province of China.
Kang Ping | China News Service | Getty Images

Google wants to make it easier for people to get medical care virtually, so they don't need to leave their homes in the midst of a pandemic.

The company on Friday said it is rolling out two new features in its Search and Maps products to direct people looking for medical care to available doctors, including tele-health options when they're available. For instance, when people search for immediate general care (like "urgent care near me" or "walk-in clinics"), they may see national virtual care platforms alongside the results. When there are specific doctors' offices with virtual care options, those will pop up as people search for them.

The company shared the update in a blog post, written by Google Health's director of product management Julie Black, noting that it has seen "interest in virtual care and telehealth rise dramatically."

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged people to leverage telemedicine wherever possible, so they don't risk spreading the virus to medical workers. That includes those with mild symptoms, who don't need to access in-person care. 

To meet the increasing demand, some hospitals are ramping up their virtual offerings -- and Google will start to highlight those via Maps and Search. Many employers and insurance companies are covering the cost of a telemedicine visit scheduled via apps like Teladoc, Doctor on Demand and American Well, which Google will also feature in its search and maps results. These companies have said they are hiring doctors and other medical professionals to increase capacity as people flock to them -- Doctor on Demand's CEO Hill Ferguson told CNBC it has brought on "hundreds" of licensed doctors since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and is still actively hiring. 

Health professionals can set up their own virtual care offering in their Google business profile. Google will then surface the option "to get online care" when people are searching for a provider. From there, prospective patients can schedule a virtual visit. 

Google said it is also displaying cash prices for the visit for those who aren't using insurance, or have high-deductible plans. Those will vary depending on the provider, but are typically less than $50 per visit. 

The new features are initially going live in the U.S., but Google may eventually expand it to other countries. 

Google parent company Alphabet has rolled out a range of tools and services related to the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks, both from the Google Health team and Verily, its life sciences unit. Last week, it introduced a website that shows the level of social distancing taking place in various locations based on information collected from Google apps and services on people's phones.

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