Author Archives: Dr. David Feinberg

Resources for mental health support during COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted lives around the world. In addition to the lives lost to the virus, as many communities enter the second and third month under stay-at-home orders, there is a rising mental health toll, too. In a national survey released by the American Psychiatric Association in March, 36 percent of respondents said that COVID-19 was seriously impacting their mental health; 48 percent were anxious about getting infected; and 57 percent reported concern that COVID-19 will seriously impact their finances.

As a trained psychiatrist, I know firsthand the importance of bringing out into the open the issue of mental health. While it might be years between the first onset of symptoms and someone seeking help, the internet is often the first place people turn to find out more about mental disorders. To help address the emerging mental health crisis we’re sharing “Be Kind to Your Mind," which includes resources on mental wellbeing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Whenever people in the U.S. search for information about coping with the pandemic, or on COVID-19 and mental health, we’ll show a public service announcement with tips to cope with stress during COVID-19. To raise awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing during these times, we'll highlight these resources on Google's homepage tomorrow.

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Whenever people in the U.S. search for information about coping with the pandemic, we’ll show a public service announcement with tips to cope with stress during COVID-19.

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to highlight a few other resources and tools across Google and YouTube that promote mental wellbeing.

Self-assessment questionnaires for depression and PTSD

When people search on Google for information about mental health conditions we provide panels with information from authoritative sources like Mayo Clinic that detail symptoms, treatments, and provide an overview of the different types of specialists who can help. On the info panels for depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we provide direct access to clinically-validated self-assessment questionnaires that ask some of the same types of questions a mental health professional might ask. Based on a person’s answers, these self-assessment tools provide information on risk, along with links to more resources. Results to these questionnaires are not logged. We hope they can provide insight and help people have a more informed conversation with their doctor. We will add more self-assessment  questionnaires over time to cover more conditions.

Self-care content on YouTube

Over the last few months, YouTube has seen a 35 percent increase in views of meditation videos, and growing popularity of mindfulness and wellbeing content. YouTube is making videos like these and other mental health resources more widely available to anyone around the world, for free, by spotlighting channels and playlists that have wellbeing and mindfulness-focused content. Countless YouTube creators, like Dr. Mike and Kati Morton, educate their communities as they help reduce the stigma associated with mental health. YouTube is also launching relevant YouTube Originals, including a “BookTube” episode featuring top authors like Melinda Gates and Elizabeth Gilbert offering their best book recommendations.

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Finding virtual care options, quickly

Because of stay-at-home orders and restrictions that limit in-person interactions, many mental health care providers (including therapists and psychiatrists) are now providing telehealth care, like conducting therapy sessions over video conference. To make these options easier to find, we now allow providers to highlight their virtual care services on their Google Business Profile. So now, when you search for a mental health provider in products like Search and Maps, you may see an “Online care” link that can take you to their virtual care page, or even schedule a virtual appointment.

While the stigma around mental health has lessened in recent years, many people still find it hard to reach out to get help. By providing access to mental health resources, services and information across our products, we hope to make it easier for people to seek help and receive proper care.

Tools to help healthcare providers deliver better care

There has been a lot of interest around our collaboration with Ascension. As a physician, I understand. Health is incredibly personal, and your health information should be private to you and the people providing your care. 

That’s why I want to clarify what our teams are doing, why we’re doing it, and how it will help your healthcare providers—and you. 

Doctors and nurses love caring for patients, but aren’t always equipped with the tools they need to thrive in their mission. We have all seen headlines like "Why doctors hate their computers," with complaints about having to use "a disconnected patchwork" that makes finding critical health information like finding a needle in the haystack. The average U.S. health system has 18 electronic medical record systems, and our doctors and nurses feel like they are "data clerks" rather than healers. 

Google has spent two decades on similar problems for consumers, building products such as Search, Translate and Gmail, and we believe we can adapt our technology to help. That’s why we’re building an intelligent suite of tools to help doctors, nurses, and other providers take better care of patients, leveraging our expertise in organizing information. 

One of those tools aims to make health records more useful, more accessible and more searchable by pulling them into a single, easy-to-use interface for doctors. I mentioned this during my presentation last month at theHLTH Conference. Ascension is the first partner where we are working with the frontline staff to pilot this tool.

Google Health - Tools to help healthcare providers deliver better care

Google Health: Tools to help healthcare providers deliver better care

This effort is challenging. Health information is incredibly complex—there are misspellings, different ways of saying the same thing, handwritten scribbles, and faxes. Healthcare IT systems also don’t talk well to each other and this keeps doctors and nurses from taking the best possible care of you. 

Policymakers and regulators across the world (e.g., CMS, HHS, the NHS, and EC)have called this out as an important issue. We’ve committed to help, and it’s why we built this system on interoperable standards

To deliver such a tool to providers, the system must operate on patients' records. This is what people have been asking about in the context of our Ascension partnership, and why we want to clarify how we handle that data.

As we noted in an earlier post, our work adheres to strict regulations on handling patient data, and our Business Associate Agreement with Ascension ensures their patient data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing our services—this means it’s never used for advertising. We’ve also published a white paper around how customer data is encrypted and isolated in the cloud. 

To ensure that our tools are safe for Ascension doctors and nurses treating real patients, members of our team might come into contact with identifiable patient data. Because of this, we have strict controls for the limited Google employees who handle such data:

  • We develop and test our system on synthetic (fake) data and openly available datasets.

  • To configure, test, tune and maintain the service in a clinical setting, a limited number of screened and qualified Google staff may be exposed to real data. These staff undergo HIPAA and medical ethics training, and are individually and explicitly approved by Ascension for a limited time.

  • We have technical controls to further enhance data privacy. Data is accessible in a strictly controlled environment with audit trails—these controls are designed to prevent the data from leaving this environment and access to patient data is monitored and auditable.

  • We will further prioritize the development of technology that reduces the number of engineers that need access to patient data (similar to our external redactiontechnology).

  • We also participate in external certifications, like ISO 27001, where independent third-party auditors come and check our processes, including information security controls for these tools.

I graduated from medical school in 1989. I've seen tremendous progress in healthcare over the ensuing decades, but this progress has also brought with it challenges of information overload that have taken doctors’ and nurses’ attentions away from the patients they are called to serve. I believe technology has a major role to play in reversing this trend, while also improving how care is delivered in ways that can save lives.