Tag Archives: Health

Supporting evolving COVID information needs

COVID-19 has transformed the way we live, work and interact with each other. Over the course of the pandemic, finding timely, reliable and locally relevant information has been critically important, and people have often turned to Google first to make sense of the new environment. Ever since Search interest in coronavirus hit an all-time high in March 2020 worldwide, people’s searches have changed as we’ve moved into new phases of the pandemic.

As the pandemic evolves, so do people’s information needs. Our goal is to continue providing timely, fresh and actionable information as some people return to offices, explore travel around the world and navigate everyday life in the safest ways possible.

Supporting evolving testing needs

At-home testing is a helpful and convenient way to minimize community spread through awareness of COVID status. In the United States alone, search interest in “at home covid tests” increased by 170% in May 2022. So starting this month in the U.S., people can more easily find at-home COVID test kits on Google Search. With a quick Search, you can quickly see at-home testing kits available in stores, and nearby testing information provided by local health authorities.

A smartphone screen showing search results for “at home covid testing”

Empowering travelers

When you search on Google for travel information, you can see if there’s an advisory or any entry restrictions at your destination, including testing, quarantine or immunization requirements. Last spring, we introduced a new option to turn on tracking for these advisories right from the Search results page. You receive an email if the travel requirements change for your selected destination if you’re logged into your Google account. For the United States, you can also view and track travel advisories at the state level.

An animation of a smartphone screen showing alerts about COVID travel restrictions on Google Search and Gmail

Continuing to support vaccination efforts

With a quick Google Search, you can already find timely information on vaccinations, including boosters, specific vaccine types and appointment availability. This information also includes support for pediatric vaccinations as kids head to summer camp and participate in other seasonal activities. In the U.S, when parents search for “covid vaccine for kids” they can quickly find healthcare providers that offer COVID pediatric vaccinations.

Amplifying authoritative information

Collaborating with trusted partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been critical to getting people the information they need at the right time. We’ve also helped amplify important messages from public health authorities by donating Google Search advertising and related expert assistance. Through this initiative, the WHO has provided more than two billion COVID-related public service announcements, connecting nearly 250 million people to high-quality COVID-19 Information. We recently pledged an additional $150 million in donated Search ads — bringing our total in-kind commitment to more than $1 billion with the overarching goal of connecting people to authoritative information related to COVID-19 and related topics as they search on Google.

To make sure people can easily find the information they need about COVID, we’ve built and grown a number of features that further our goal of making healthcare information more accessible to everyone. As the world continues to navigate COVID, Google remains committed to helping reduce friction in accessing health information and care for all.

Supporting evolving COVID information needs

COVID-19 has transformed the way we live, work and interact with each other. Over the course of the pandemic, finding timely, reliable and locally relevant information has been critically important, and people have often turned to Google first to make sense of the new environment. Ever since Search interest in coronavirus hit an all-time high in March 2020 worldwide, people’s searches have changed as we’ve moved into new phases of the pandemic.

As the pandemic evolves, so do people’s information needs. Our goal is to continue providing timely, fresh and actionable information as some people return to offices, explore travel around the world and navigate everyday life in the safest ways possible.

Supporting evolving testing needs

At-home testing is a helpful and convenient way to minimize community spread through awareness of COVID status. In the United States alone, search interest in “at home covid tests” increased by 170% in May 2022. So starting this month in the U.S., people can more easily find at-home COVID test kits on Google Search. With a quick Search, you can quickly see at-home testing kits available in stores, and nearby testing information provided by local health authorities.

A smartphone screen showing search results for “at home covid testing”

Empowering travelers

When you search on Google for travel information, you can see if there’s an advisory or any entry restrictions at your destination, including testing, quarantine or immunization requirements. Last spring, we introduced a new option to turn on tracking for these advisories right from the Search results page. You receive an email if the travel requirements change for your selected destination if you’re logged into your Google account. For the United States, you can also view and track travel advisories at the state level.

An animation of a smartphone screen showing alerts about COVID travel restrictions on Google Search and Gmail

Continuing to support vaccination efforts

With a quick Google Search, you can already find timely information on vaccinations, including boosters, specific vaccine types and appointment availability. This information also includes support for pediatric vaccinations as kids head to summer camp and participate in other seasonal activities. In the U.S, when parents search for “covid vaccine for kids” they can quickly find healthcare providers that offer COVID pediatric vaccinations.

Amplifying authoritative information

Collaborating with trusted partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been critical to getting people the information they need at the right time. We’ve also helped amplify important messages from public health authorities by donating Google Search advertising and related expert assistance. Through this initiative, the WHO has provided more than two billion COVID-related public service announcements, connecting nearly 250 million people to high-quality COVID-19 Information. We recently pledged an additional $150 million in donated Search ads — bringing our total in-kind commitment to more than $1 billion with the overarching goal of connecting people to authoritative information related to COVID-19 and related topics as they search on Google.

To make sure people can easily find the information they need about COVID, we’ve built and grown a number of features that further our goal of making healthcare information more accessible to everyone. As the world continues to navigate COVID, Google remains committed to helping reduce friction in accessing health information and care for all.

Supporting evolving COVID information needs

COVID-19 has transformed the way we live, work and interact with each other. Over the course of the pandemic, finding timely, reliable and locally relevant information has been critically important, and people have often turned to Google first to make sense of the new environment. Ever since Search interest in coronavirus hit an all-time high in March 2020 worldwide, people’s searches have changed as we’ve moved into new phases of the pandemic.

As the pandemic evolves, so do people’s information needs. Our goal is to continue providing timely, fresh and actionable information as some people return to offices, explore travel around the world and navigate everyday life in the safest ways possible.

Supporting evolving testing needs

At-home testing is a helpful and convenient way to minimize community spread through awareness of COVID status. In the United States alone, search interest in “at home covid tests” increased by 170% in May 2022. So starting this month in the U.S., people can more easily find at-home COVID test kits on Google Search. With a quick Search, you can quickly see at-home testing kits available in stores, and nearby testing information provided by local health authorities.

A smartphone screen showing search results for “at home covid testing”

Empowering travelers

When you search on Google for travel information, you can see if there’s an advisory or any entry restrictions at your destination, including testing, quarantine or immunization requirements. Last spring, we introduced a new option to turn on tracking for these advisories right from the Search results page. You receive an email if the travel requirements change for your selected destination if you’re logged into your Google account. For the United States, you can also view and track travel advisories at the state level.

An animation of a smartphone screen showing alerts about COVID travel restrictions on Google Search and Gmail

Continuing to support vaccination efforts

With a quick Google Search, you can already find timely information on vaccinations, including boosters, specific vaccine types and appointment availability. This information also includes support for pediatric vaccinations as kids head to summer camp and participate in other seasonal activities. In the U.S, when parents search for “covid vaccine for kids” they can quickly find healthcare providers that offer COVID pediatric vaccinations.

Amplifying authoritative information

Collaborating with trusted partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been critical to getting people the information they need at the right time. We’ve also helped amplify important messages from public health authorities by donating Google Search advertising and related expert assistance. Through this initiative, the WHO has provided more than two billion COVID-related public service announcements, connecting nearly 250 million people to high-quality COVID-19 Information. We recently pledged an additional $150 million in donated Search ads — bringing our total in-kind commitment to more than $1 billion with the overarching goal of connecting people to authoritative information related to COVID-19 and related topics as they search on Google.

To make sure people can easily find the information they need about COVID, we’ve built and grown a number of features that further our goal of making healthcare information more accessible to everyone. As the world continues to navigate COVID, Google remains committed to helping reduce friction in accessing health information and care for all.

Expanding research on digital wellbeing

Editor’s note: Dr. Nicholas Allenis a professor of psychology, the director of the Center for Digital Mental Health at the University of Oregonand a lead researcher for the latest study hosted on Google Health Studies.

In Australia, where I’m from, any topic so contentious that it interrupts whatever a group is doing and prompts loud debate is called a “BBQ stopper.” Discussing whether digital technology is good or bad for wellbeing and mental health is a classic BBQ stopper. And this issue has become even more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic as so many people have turned to digital technology to maintain some semblance of their lifestyle.

This is a focus for our work at the Center for Digital Mental Health at the University of Oregon, where we conduct research and build tools to enhance mental health and wellbeing, especially among underserved and young people. Our goal is to provide people and their support networks with actionable feedback on their wellbeing.

We’re expanding our research using Google Health Studies with a study focused on how smartphone use impacts wellbeing. With this research, we hope to uncover insights that help us all build a future where digital products may support us in living healthier, happier lives.

Weighing benefits and risks

With today’s smartphones, social media and bottomless streams of content, many are quick to condemn technology based on their conviction that these products must be bad for mental health and wellbeing. But focusing only on these potentially harmful effects doesn't tell the full story. Nor does it help us reap the full benefits these tools have to offer, while also managing their risks.

Technological developments throughout history have had both benefits and risks. We urgently need high-quality research to identify which use patterns are associated with benefits versus risks, and who is likely to experience harmful versus beneficial outcomes. Answering these questions is necessary so that the research community and technology industry can pursue evidence-based product design, education and policy aimed at maximizing benefits and minimizing risks.

The need for new research

Not only do we need new research that focuses on both the benefits and risks of technology, we also need to rethink what we ask people, who we include in this research and how we work together to use the findings.

Most scientific research on digital wellbeing has relied on self-reported questionnaires, which are heavily subjective. Could you say how many hours or minutes you used your phone yesterday without checking your screen time metrics? Probably not!

Existing studies also typically have small or unrepresentative samples. To make sure research and potential solutions support everyone, it’s critical for new research methodologies to incorporate data from people historically underrepresented in health research.

Finally, many studies might miss certain patterns of behavior that reveal complex relationships between device use and wellbeing — like the relationship between screen time and sleep.

Understanding these relationships can inform insights and guidelines for developers and people to maximize wellbeing and minimize risks. Scientists around the globe are calling for greater transparency and collaboration between the technology sector and independent scientists to solve these problems and provide the answers we need.

Studying the impact of technology, with technology

We believe that technology can help bridge many of these gaps and improve research on digital wellbeing. That’s why the Center for Digital Mental Health at the University of Oregon is partnering with Google to launch this landmark study.

We’ll recruit a large representative sample and collect direct, objective measures of how people use their phones, with their informed consent. We’ll use passive and continuous sensing technology to do this, rather than relying only on self reports. The study will also use participants’ phones to directly measure many of the well-established building blocks of wellbeing, such as sleep and physical activity.

How to participate

The study takes four weeks to complete and is open to adults based in the U.S. who use an Android phone and can complete daily activities without assistance. Participants will also have the option to add relevant Fitbit data, including step count and physical activity.[f1908e]The data collected will be managed according to strict ethical standards and will only be used for research and to inform better products. The data will never be sold or used for advertising.

We hope you’ll join this important study so we can build a healthier digital future together for everyone. Download Google Health Studies, and sign up for the study starting Friday, May 27.

Mental health resources you can count on

When you or someone you care for is going through a mental health situation, it can feel isolating, overwhelming and distressing. To get through those moments, access to the right resources can make all the difference.

Anxiety and depression increased by 25% across the globe during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and hospitals and doctor groups recently called mental health a national emergency for adolescents. With these issues on the rise, searches for "mental health therapist" and "mental health help" reached record highs this year in the U.S.

Against the backdrop of the global pandemic, geopolitical crises and economic concerns also hit home for many Americans. To help support mental health challenges stemming from these issues, our goal is to surface authoritative information you can trust, create access to helpful resources you need in the moment and show empathy for everyone facing mental health issues. So in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S., here are tools built to support you when you need it most.

Resources for those in crisis

We know that many people turn to Search to get actionable information during a personal crisis, whether it’s related to suicide, sexual assault, substance abuse or domestic violence. In the coming weeks, we’ll update Search to use our AI model MUM to automatically and more accurately detect personal crisis searches in order to show you the most relevant information when you need it.

We’ve also made it easier to access clinically-validated mental health self-assessments from Search for conditions such as depression, anxiety, postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These self-assessments, frequently used by medical professionals, are meant to help people understand how their self-reported symptoms might map to known mental health conditions.

On YouTube, updates to our crisis response panels better connect you with timely and important resources. For years, YouTube has shown crisis resource panels on certain search queries to connect people with local organizations that can help them through a moment of critical need. Now, crisis resource panels appear on the Watch Page and in search results. The number of topics that display crisis resources in YouTube search results has also expanded to include issues like depression, sexual assault and substance abuse.

A phone screen shows a YouTube video with a panel underneath that has contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

In the past month, searches for "local drug rehab centers near me" reached an all-time high in the U.S. As part of our ongoing commitment to help people find useful and accurate information related to addiction and recovery and to support the newly instituted Fentanyl Awareness Day, our Recover Together resource has a new section. Here you can find more information about the prevalence of fentanyl in illegally-made pills and the importance of naloxone, a legal drug that can reverse overdose from opioids like fentanyl, heroin, morphine and oxycodone.

A desktop screen shows a map that can be used to search for recovery resources.

Building empathy and reducing stigma

Sharing stories about mental health can normalize the issue and reduce stigmas that deter people from getting help. Working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, YouTube created a guide for creators with tips on how to speak from personal experience, work with experts and use inclusive language.

To listen to supportive community stories and helpful information on mental health, you can watch videos in this playlist on YouTube. For younger audiences, the YouTube Kids app features mental health content on expressing emotions and building coping skills through music, art and more. For more on what YouTube is doing when it comes to mental health, check out this blog.

Personal moments of managing stress

In moments when you need a hand managing your stress levels, Fitbit can help. SelectFitbit devices include a Relax app for deep breathing or an EDA (electrodermal activity) sensor so you can better understand how your body responds to stress — which is especially important as we all cope with the stress of the pandemic. From there, you can take steps to adjust your activity levels, improve your sleep or practice mindfulness to help manage the impact on your wellbeing.

A Fitbit device screen shows the Relax app.

Over the past year in the U.S., searches for “5 minute meditation for anxiety” more than doubled. Using Google Assistant, you can find and play meditations from Calm on your Google Nest display to help relax during the day or fall asleep at night. Just say, "Hey Google, show me meditations from Calm" or "Hey Google, start a meditation."

A Nest Hub screen shows the Calm app experience.

Contributing to community wellbeing

Beyond providing resources to people using our products, we’re also helping organizations and researchers that contribute to mental health.

Since 2019, we've provided $2.7 million and nearly 30 Google.org Fellows to help The Trevor Project use AI to support LGBTQ+ youth in crisis. Most recently, Trevor and a team of Fellows built the AI-powered Crisis Contact Simulator (CCS) that lets volunteer trainees practice realistic conversations with digital youth personas. The Trevor Project recently introduced a new persona to expand their counselor training.

Ask for help when you need it

It is always okay to ask for help — whether that’s going to Google or YouTube with questions you’re not comfortable asking anyone else or opening up to your friends and family or connecting with experts who can help you through the difficult moments. We need to support each other however we can.

Living in a multi-device world with Android

Android has grown into the most popular OS in the world, delivering access, connectivity and information to people everywhere on their smartphones. There are over three billion active monthly Android devices around the world, and in the last year alone, more than a billion new Android phones have been activated. While the phone is still the most popular form of computing, people are adding more connected technologies to their lives like TVs, cars, watches and more.

As we build for a multi-device future, we’re introducing new ways to get more done. Whether it's your phone or your other devices, our updates help them all work better together.

Do more with your Android phone

With Android 13, we’re making updates to privacy and security, personalization and large screen devices. You’ve already seen a preview of this in the Developer Previews and first beta. Across the Android ecosystem, we’re also bringing more ways to keep your conversations private and secure, store your digital identity and get you help in the physical world.

We have been working with carriers and phone makers around the world to upgrade SMS text messaging to a new standard called Rich Communication Services (RCS). With RCS, you can share high-quality photos, see type indicators, message over Wi-Fi and get a better group messaging experience.

This is a huge step forward for the mobile ecosystem and we are really excited about the progress! In fact, Google's Messages app already has half a billion monthly active users with RCS and is growing fast. And, Messages already offers end-to-end encryption for your one-to-one conversations. Later this year, we’ll also be bringing encryption to your group conversations to open beta.

Three messages are shown from a group message between friends who are excited for a baking class they will take together.

Your phone can also help provide secure access to your everyday essentials. Recently, we’ve witnessed the rapid digitization of things like car keys and vaccine records. The new Google Wallet on Android will standardize the way you save and access these important items, plus things like payment cards, transit and event tickets, boarding and loyalty passes and student IDs. We’ll be launching Google Wallet on Wear OS, starting with support for payment cards.

Soon, you’ll be able to save and access hotel keys and office badges from your Android phone. And we know you can’t leave home without your ID, so we're collaborating with states across the U.S. and international partners to bring digital driver's licenses and IDs to Google Wallet later this year.

We’re developing smooth integrations with other Google apps and services while providing granular privacy controls. For example, when you add a transit card to Wallet, your card and balance will automatically show up in Google Maps when you search for directions. If your balance is running low, you can quickly tap and add fare before you arrive at the station.

A user looks at their phone for directions from the San Francisco airport on Google Maps. Since they are looking for public transportation routes, they are prompted on their phone to add fare to their Clipper card, a transit card used throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. With a tap, they add their desired amount of money to the card.

Beyond helping keep your communication and digital identities safe, your devices can be even more essential in critical moments like medical emergencies or natural disasters. In these times, chances are you’ll have either your phone or watch on you. We built critical infrastructure into Android like Emergency Location Services (ELS) to help first responders locate you when you call for help. We recently launched ELS in Bulgaria, Paraguay, Spain and Saudi Arabia, and it is now available to more than one billion people worldwide.

Early Earthquake Warnings are already in place in 25 countries, and this year we’ll launch them in many of the remaining high-risk regions around the world. This year, we’ll also start working with partners to bring Emergency SOS to Wear OS, so you can instantly contact a trusted friend or family member or call emergency services from your watch.

A watch screen depicts the Emergency SOS feature. The watch face has an outline of a red circle that counts down the time before an emergency call is made directly from the watch. In this example 911 is called.

Apps and services that extend beyond the phone

Along with your phone, two of the most important and personal devices in our lives are watches and tablets.

With the launch of our unified platform with Samsung last year, there are now over three times as many active Wear OS devices as there were last year. Later this year, you’ll start to see more devices powered with Wear OS from Samsung, Fossil Group, Montblanc, Mobvoi and others. And for the first time ever, Google Assistant is coming to Samsung Galaxy watches, starting soon with the Watch4 series. The Google Assistant experience for Wear OS has been improved with faster, more natural voice interactions, so you can access useful features like voice-controlled navigation or setting reminders.

We’re also bringing more of your favorite apps to Wear OS. Check out experiences built for your wrist by Spotify, adidas Running, LINE and KakaoTalk. And you’ll see many more from apps like SoundCloud and Deezer later this year.

Various app logos including Spotify, adidas Running, LINE, and more are spread out in a circle outside of a watch.

We’re investing in tablets in a big way and have made updates to the interface in 12L and Android 13 that optimize information for the larger screen. We’ve also introduced new features that help you multitask — for example, tap the toolbar to view the app tray and drag and drop apps to view them in a side by side view.

To support these system-level updates, we’ve also been working to improve the app experiences on Android tablets. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be updating more than 20 Google apps to take full advantage of the extra space including YouTube Music, Google Maps, Messages and more.

A collage of colorful tablets are shown, each tablet with a different app running on its screen such as Google Translate, Google Maps, Google TV, Google Photos, Gmail, and more. The Android logo is in the center of the image with the text “20+ optimized Google tablet apps” written in large lettering.

We’re working with other apps to revamp their experiences this year as well, including TikTok, Zoom, Facebook and many others. You’ll soon be able to easily search for all tablet-optimized apps thanks to updates to Google Play.

The Google Play app is open on a tablet. Apps like TikTok, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Zoom are listed under the “Top Free” section of the app charts, each with an Install button beside it.

Simple ways for your devices to work better together

Getting things done can be much easier if your connected devices all communicate and work together. The openness and flexibility of Android powers phones, watches, tablets, TVs and cars — and it works well with devices like headphones, speakers, laptops and more. Across all these devices, we’re building on our efforts and introducing even more simple and helpful features to move throughout your day.

With Chromecast built-in, you can watch videos, listen to music and more on the device that makes sense depending on where you are and what you’re doing. This means after your daily commute, you can easily play the rest of a movie you were watching on your phone on your TV at home. To help you stay entertained, we’re working to extend casting capabilities to new partners and products, such as Chromebook, or even your car.

An interior of a car with YouTube video being cast from a phone to the in-car display.

Your media should just move with you, so you can automatically switch audio from your headphones while watching a movie on your tablet to your phone when answering an incoming call.

And when you need to get more done across devices, you’ll soon be able to copy a URL or picture from your phone, and paste it on your tablet.

This graphic begins with a user copying an image from the web on their phone. They select the Nearby Share icon and the image from the phone is now in the clipboard of their tablet. The user then clicks paste within a slide in Google Slides on their tablet and the image from the phone appears.

Earlier this year, we previewed multi-device experiences, like expanding Phone Hub on your Chromebook to allow you to access all your phone’s messaging apps. By streaming from your phone to the laptop, you’ll be able to send and reply to messages, view your conversation history and launch your messaging apps from your laptop. We’re also making it easier to set up and pair your devices with the expansion of Fast Pair support to more devices, including built-in support for Matter on Android.

Whether Android brings new possibilities to your phone or the many devices in your life, we’re looking forward to helping you in this multi-device world.

Raising awareness of the dangers of fentanyl

Editor’s note:

Illegally made fentanyl — a dangerous synthetic opioid — is driving the recent increase in all U.S. overdose deaths, with young people being the most vulnerable.Overdose deaths among teenagers linked to synthetic opioids like fentanyl have tripled in recent years, as illegal fake pills containing the deadly drug are sold on the street and online. Sadly, many young people who lose their lives to overdose are unaware of the dangers of fake prescription pills that contain fentanyl.

Google continues to promote addiction awareness and highlight recovery support services for those affected. For example, for the past four years Google has worked with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to promote their twice-yearly National Prescription Drug Takeback Day; this includes mapping their collection site locations onthe Recover Together website, a site that also shows a Google Maps locator tool with pharmacies where you can get naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. Google shows the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline to people looking for help addressing substance use and surfaces thePartnership to End Addiction helpline to connect caregivers of those struggling with substance use with support resources.

In observance of National Fentanyl Awareness Day on May 10, 2022, we asked two Google Health experts — Dr. Megan Jones Bell, Clinical Director of Consumer and Mental Health at Google, and Dr. Garth Graham, Director and Global Head of YouTube Health — to share their thoughts on addressing the deadly epidemic of fentanyl overdoses.


Throughout our careers, we’ve seen the impact that opioids and related substances can have on individuals, families and communities. Over the last two years, these public health issues have been eclipsed by the COVID-19 crisis. As we find ourselves in a new stage of the pandemic, we are facing an equally terrifying national health crisis: fentanyl use.

What is fentanyl and why is it so dangerous?

Fentanyl is a potent, lab-made opioid and a cheap and addictive filler that gets added to illegal, counterfeit versions of well-known prescription opioid and anti-anxiety drugs (as explained by the DEA’s One Pill Can Kill website), as well as other illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine. The DEA warns that fentanyl substantially increases the chances of a fatal interaction when added to any of these drugs. The rise of fentanyl in the U.S. has contributed to a recent 33% increase in accidental deaths in people 50 and younger.

The DEA reports that one in four counterfeit pills made with fentanyl contains a lethal dose. Among the scariest aspects of fentanyl are how easy it is to acquire and that a single pill is often all it takes to end a life. And it can happen to anyone. Two Google parents who lost their sons this way shared their tragic experiences in a blog post last year about the dangers of accidental fentanyl overdose.

Teens are particularly vulnerable to misleading and false information about the substances that they acquire. Many young people whose lives are lost to fentanyl overdose are not regular drug users. Having honest conversations can save lives: If you’re a parent, guardian or other adult responsible for a young person, please talk to them about the dangers of fentanyl and counterfeit pills. These resources can help to guide your conversations about fentanyl.

Understanding the impact of fentanyl

In the U.S. in 2019, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl were nearly 12 times higher than six years prior. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this disturbing trend became markedly worse. Between January 2020 and January 2021, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) rose over 50 percent, and these drugs are likely the main driver of the increase in total drug overdose deaths. In fact, 207 people die every single day from an opioid-related overdose with fentanyl being a factor in more than half of overdose deaths.

Despite these staggering statistics, awareness of fentanyl-laced, counterfeit pills and other substances is remarkably low. As clinicians and parents, we must ensure that everyone – especially teens, young adults and their parents and guardians – understand the risks and prevalence of fentanyl and how to prevent, recognize and reverse overdoses.

Resources for fentanyl education and awareness

For National Fentanyl Awareness Day, Google and YouTube are working together to share resources on Google’s Recover Together site to take a first step toward improving fentanyl education and awareness. We are committed to raising awareness of substance use disorders and the dangers associated with fentanyl and other opioids.

In addition to highlighting resources on fentanyl education, we are also increasing awareness of a new crisis affecting many U.S. communities: fentanyl mass-overdose events. The DEA defines these horrifying overdose clusters as “three or more overdoses occurring close in time and at the same location.”

Fentanyl has permanently altered the course of so many people’s lives, leaving devastated families and communities in its wake. Please join us in taking action to end our nation’s opioid epidemic and to protect our families, friends and communities from the scourge of fentanyl.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Educate your loved ones and spread awareness throughout your community on the dangers and prevalence of fentanyl. The National Fentanyl Awareness Day site has important facts and figures in shareable graphics.
  • Carry and learn how to administer naloxone, as recommended by the US Surgeon General. Many recovery community organizations provide local training, or you can take online courses through organizations like the Red Cross.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of overdose and be prepared to call for help.
  • Verify your online pharmacy before purchasing prescription drugs.
  • Use rapid test strips to determine if drugs are mixed or cut with fentanyl. With the CDC’s help, many states and communities have programs to make these test strips available. You should use these programs to always test any drugs before use.

Together, we can promote greater awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and help turn the tide on a deadly epidemic that has ended far too many lives far too soon.


Megan Jones Bell, PsyD. Clinical Director of Consumer and Mental Health at Google, is a clinical psychologist and digital health leader working to make healthcare more effective, affordable and accessible globally. She has done extensive research on prevention and treatment of mental health disorders and works to ensure that Google users have access to accurate and useful information about substance use disorders and the opioid epidemic.

Garth Graham, MD, MPH, FACC. Director and Global Head of YouTube Health is a cardiologist, academic and health professional who has served as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health in two administrations. He works to bring authoritative health information to YouTube users around the globe when they search for information and resources on health conditions, including how to cope with substance addiction conditions. Dr. Graham also sits on the advisory board forNational Fentanyl Awareness Day.


New Fitbit feature makes AFib detection more accessible

Today, Fitbit received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for our new PPG (photoplethysmography) algorithm to identify atrial fibrillation (AFib). The algorithm will power our new Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications feature on Fitbit.[71d620]

You’ve got rhythm, but is it irregular?

AFib is a form of irregular heart rhythm that affects nearly 33.5 million people globally, and individuals with AFib have five times higher risk of stroke. Unfortunately, AFib can be difficult to detect as there are often no symptoms and episodes can come and go.

Our new PPG AFib algorithm can passively assess your heart rhythm in the background while you’re still or asleep. If there’s anything that might be suggestive of AFib, you’ll be notified through our Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications feature — allowing you to talk with your healthcare provider or seek further assessment to help prevent a significant medical event, such as stroke.

So how does PPG AFib detection work?

When your heart beats, tiny blood vessels throughout your body expand and contract based on changes in blood volume. Fitbit’s PPG optical heart-rate sensor can detect these volume changes right from your wrist. These measurements determine your heart rhythm, which the detection algorithm then analyzes for irregularities and potential signs of atrial fibrillation.

The clinical validation for Fitbit’s PPG algorithm is supported by data from the landmark Fitbit Heart Study, which launched in 2020 and enrolled 455,699 participants over five months. The study was conducted entirely virtually during the pandemic, making it one of the largest remote studies of PPG-based software to date. Data presented at the 2021 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions found that the Fitbit PPG detections correctly identified AFib episodes 98% of the time, as confirmed by ECG patch monitors.

Because AFib can be so sporadic, the optimal way to screen for it is through heart rate tracking technology when the body is still or at rest — making overnight detection when people are asleep especially important. The unique capabilities of Fitbit devices — especially its 24/7 heart rate tracking and long battery life — give it the potential to accelerate identification through long-term heart rhythm assessment.

All the ways to monitor heart health with Fitbit

With today’s FDA clearance of our PPG-based algorithm, Fitbit now provides two ways to detect AFib. Fitbit’s ECG app, which takes a spot-check approach, allows you to proactively screen yourself for possible AFib and record an ECG trace that you can then review with a healthcare provider. Additionally, the new PPG-based algorithm allows for long-term heart rhythm assessment that helps identify asymptomatic AFib that could otherwise go undetected.

The Fitbit PPG-based algorithm and Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications feature will soon be available to consumers in the U.S. across a range of heart-rate enabled devices. We want to make AFib detection as accessible as possible to help reduce the risk of potentially life-threatening events — like stroke — and ultimately improve overall heart health for everyone. We’ll continue to work with the BMS-Pfizer Alliance to develop educational content for patients and healthcare providers that will help identify and support people in the U.S. with irregular heart rhythms consistent with atrial fibrillation.

Visit our site to learn more about our PPG technology.

Detecting Signs of Disease from External Images of the Eye

Three years ago we wrote about our work on predicting a number of cardiovascular risk factors from fundus photos (i.e., photos of the back of the eye)1 using deep learning. That such risk factors could be extracted from fundus photos was a novel discovery and thus a surprising outcome to clinicians and laypersons alike. Since then, we and other researchers have discovered additional novel biomarkers from fundus photos, such as markers for chronic kidney disease and diabetes, and hemoglobin levels to detect anemia.

A unifying goal of work like this is to develop new disease detection or monitoring approaches that are less invasive, more accurate, cheaper and more readily available. However, one restriction to potential broad population-level applicability of efforts to extract biomarkers from fundus photos is getting the fundus photos themselves, which requires specialized imaging equipment and a trained technician.

The eye can be imaged in multiple ways. A common approach for diabetic retinal disease screening is to examine the posterior segment using fundus photographs (left), which have been shown to contain signals of kidney and heart disease, as well as anemia. Another way is to take photographs of the front of the eye (external eye photos; right), which is typically used to track conditions affecting the eyelids, conjunctiva, cornea, and lens.

In “Detection of signs of disease in external photographs of the eyes via deep learning”, in press at Nature Biomedical Engineering, we show that a deep learning model can extract potentially useful biomarkers from external eye photos (i.e., photos of the front of the eye). In particular, for diabetic patients, the model can predict the presence of diabetic retinal disease, elevated HbA1c (a biomarker of diabetic blood sugar control and outcomes), and elevated blood lipids (a biomarker of cardiovascular risk). External eye photos as an imaging modality are particularly interesting because their use may reduce the need for specialized equipment, opening the door to various avenues of improving the accessibility of health screening.

Developing the Model
To develop the model, we used de-identified data from over 145,000 patients from a teleretinal diabetic retinopathy screening program. We trained a convolutional neural network both on these images and on the corresponding ground truth for the variables we wanted the model to predict (i.e., whether the patient has diabetic retinal disease, elevated HbA1c, or elevated lipids) so that the neural network could learn from these examples. After training, the model is able to take external eye photos as input and then output predictions for whether the patient has diabetic retinal disease, or elevated sugars or lipids.

A schematic showing the model generating predictions for an external eye photo.

We measured model performance using the area under the receiver operator characteristic curve (AUC), which quantifies how frequently the model assigns higher scores to patients who are truly positive than patients who are truly negative (i.e., a perfect model scores 100%, compared to 50% for random guesses). The model detected various forms of diabetic retinal disease with AUCs of 71-82%, AUCs of 67-70% for elevated HbA1c, and AUCs of 57-68% for elevated lipids. These results indicate that, though imperfect, external eye photos can help detect and quantify various parameters of systemic health.

Much like the CDC’s pre-diabetes screening questionnaire, external eye photos may be able to help “pre-screen” people and identify those who may benefit from further confirmatory testing. If we sort all patients in our study based on their predicted risk and look at the top 5% of that list, 69% of those patients had HbA1c measurements ≥ 9 (indicating poor blood sugar control for patients with diabetes). For comparison, among patients who are at highest risk according to a risk score based on demographics and years with diabetes, only 55% had HbA1c ≥ 9, and among patients selected at random only 33% had HbA1c ≥ 9.

Assessing Potential Bias
We emphasize that this is promising, yet early, proof-of-concept research showcasing a novel discovery. That said, because we believe that it is important to evaluate potential biases in the data and model, we undertook a multi-pronged approach for bias assessment.

First, we conducted various explainability analyses aimed at discovering what parts of the image contribute most to the algorithm’s predictions (similar to our anemia work). Both saliency analyses (which examine which pixels most influenced the predictions) and ablation experiments (which examine the impact of removing various image regions) indicate that the algorithm is most influenced by the center of the image (the areas of the sclera, iris, and pupil of the eye, but not the eyelids). This is demonstrated below where one can see that the AUC declines much more quickly when image occlusion starts in the center (green lines) than when it starts in the periphery (blue lines).

Explainability analysis shows that (top) all predictions focused on different parts of the eye, and that (bottom) occluding the center of the image (corresponding to parts of the eyeball) has a much greater effect than occluding the periphery (corresponding to the surrounding structures, such as eyelids), as shown by the green line’s steeper decline. The “baseline” is a logistic regression model that takes self-reported age, sex, race and years with diabetes as input.

Second, our development dataset spanned a diverse set of locations within the U.S., encompassing over 300,000 de-identified photos taken at 301 diabetic retinopathy screening sites. Our evaluation datasets comprised over 95,000 images from 198 sites in 18 US states, including datasets of predominantly Hispanic or Latino patients, a dataset of majority Black patients, and a dataset that included patients without diabetes. We conducted extensive subgroup analyses across groups of patients with different demographic and physical characteristics (such as age, sex, race and ethnicity, presence of cataract, pupil size, and even camera type), and controlled for these variables as covariates. The algorithm was more predictive than the baseline in all subgroups after accounting for these factors.

Conclusion
This exciting work demonstrates the feasibility of extracting useful health related signals from external eye photographs, and has potential implications for the large and rapidly growing population of patients with diabetes or other chronic diseases. There is a long way to go to achieve broad applicability, for example understanding what level of image quality is needed, generalizing to patients with and without known chronic diseases, and understanding generalization to images taken with different cameras and under a wider variety of conditions, like lighting and environment. In continued partnership with academic and nonacademic experts, including EyePACS and CGMH, we look forward to further developing and testing our algorithm on larger and more comprehensive datasets, and broadening the set of biomarkers recognized (e.g., for liver disease). Ultimately we are working towards making non-invasive health and wellness tools more accessible to everyone.

Acknowledgements
This work involved the efforts of a multidisciplinary team of software engineers, researchers, clinicians and cross functional contributors. Key contributors to this project include: Boris Babenko, Akinori Mitani, Ilana Traynis, Naho Kitade‎, Preeti Singh, April Y. Maa, Jorge Cuadros, Greg S. Corrado, Lily Peng, Dale R. Webster, Avinash Varadarajan‎, Naama Hammel, and Yun Liu. The authors would also like to acknowledge Huy Doan, Quang Duong, Roy Lee, and the Google Health team for software infrastructure support and data collection. We also thank Tiffany Guo, Mike McConnell, Michael Howell, and Sam Kavusi for their feedback on the manuscript. Last but not least, gratitude goes to the graders who labeled data for the pupil segmentation model, and a special thanks to Tom Small for the ideation and design that inspired the animation used in this blog post.


1The information presented here is research and does not reflect a product that is available for sale. Future availability cannot be guaranteed. 

Source: Google AI Blog


The Check Up: helping people live healthier lives

My years spent caring for patients at the bedside and in the clinic inspired me to find ways to improve health for them and their communities at scale. That passion eventually brought me to Google where I could help solve the world’s most significant health challenges.

I joined the company just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. At the time, most people hadn’t heard of “flattening the curve” or “mRNA vaccines.” But what they did know was that they could turn to Google with their questions. The COVID-19 pandemic strengthened our resolve that Google could and should help everyone, everywhere live a healthier life. It also accelerated our company-wide health efforts.

We embed health into our products to meet people where they are. Our teams apply their expertise and technological strengths and harness the power of partnerships to support our 3Cs – consumers, caregivers and communities around the world.

Today, we’re hosting our second annual Google Health event, The Check Up. Teams from across the company — including Search, YouTube, Fitbit, Care Studio, Health AI, Cloud and Advanced Technologies and Projects team — will share updates about their latest efforts.

Among the areas of progress, I’m delighted at the ways our teams are working to support consumers with helpful information and tools throughout their health journeys.

Making it easier to find and book local care providers in the U.S.

When people have questions about their health, they often start with the internet to find answers. No matter what people are searching for on Google Search, it's our mission to give high-quality information, exactly when it’s needed.

The Search team recently released features to help people navigate the complex healthcare system and make more informed decisions, like finding healthcare providers who take their insurance.

At today's event, Hema Budaraju, who leads our Health and Social Impact work for Search, introduced a feature we’re rolling out that shows the appointment availability for healthcare providers so you can easily book an appointment. Whether you put off your annual check-up, recently moved and need a new doctor, or are looking for a same-day visit to a MinuteClinic at CVS, you might see available appointment dates and times for doctors in your area.

While we’re still in the early stages of rolling this feature out, we’re working with partners, including MinuteClinic at CVS and other scheduling solution providers. We hope to expand features, functionality and our network of partners so we can make it easier for people to get the care they need.

Screenshot of new appointment availability feature

Helping people in Brazil, India and Japan discover local, authoritative health content on YouTube

Of all the information channels people turn to for health information, video can be a helpful and powerful way to help people make informed healthcare decisions. People can watch and listen to experts translate complex medical terms and information into simple language and concepts they easily understand, and they can connect with communities experiencing similar conditions and health challenges.

Dr. Garth Graham talked about YouTube Health’s mission of providing equitable access to authoritative health information that is evidence-based, culturally relevant and engaging. In the past year, YouTube has focused on building partnerships with leading health organizations and public health leaders to increase the volume and visibility of authoritative health content through new features.

Starting this week in Japan, Brazil and India, YouTube is adding health source information panels on videos to provide context that helps viewers identify videos from authoritative sources, and health content shelves that more effectively highlight videos from these sources when people search for specific health topics. These context cues help people easily navigate and evaluate credible health information.

Supporting heart health with Fitbit

In addition to information needs, people use our consumer technologies and tools to support their health and wellness. Fitbit makes it easy and motivating for people to manage their holistic health, from activity and nutrition to sleep and mindfulness. Fitbit co-founder James Park shared how Fitbit believes wearables can have an even greater impact on supporting people with chronic conditions, including heart conditions like atrial fibrillation (AFib).

In 2020, the team launched the Fitbit Heart Study, with nearly half a million people who use Fitbit. The goal was to test our PPG (Photoplethysmography) AFib algorithm, which passively looks at heart rate data, to alert people to signs of an irregular heart rhythm.

We presented the study results at the most recent American Heart Association meeting, showing that the algorithm accurately identified undiagnosed AFib 98% of the time. We’ve submitted our algorithm to the FDA for review. This is one of many ways we’re continuing to make health even more accessible.

Building the future for better health

These updates are only a slice of what we covered at the event. Check out our Health AI blog post and tune into our event to hear more about ways we are advancing better, more equitable health for everyone.