Your Health According to Google

Having been ensconced in learning about health policy and the pharmaceutical industry for the past several months, I’ve been especially interested in Sicko. One of the more interesting blogosphere ripples over the movie originated on Google’s Health Advertising Blog, when Lauren Turner, an account planner, wrote a post defending the healthcare industry:

While legislators, litigators, and patient groups are growing excited, others among us are growing anxious. And why wouldn’t they? Moore attacks health insurers, health providers, and pharmaceutical companies by connecting them to isolated and emotional stories of the system at its worst. Moore’s film portrays the industry as money and marketing driven, and fails to show healthcare’s interest in patient well-being and care.

With all the coverage, it’s a shame no one focuses on the industry’s numerous prescription programs, charity services, and philanthropy efforts.

She then goes on to offer Google’s marketing expertise to the poor, hapless pharma companies that need to defend their soiled images:

Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company’s assets while helping users find the information they seek.

Blogs caught hold on this story pretty quickly, and Turner clarified her remarks in another post on Monday. But after she claimed the opinion as her own and not as Google’s official stance, she went on to say this:

, But the more important point, since I doubt that too many people care about my personal opinion, is that advertising is an effective medium for handling challenges that a company or industry might have. You could even argue that it’s especially appropriate for a public policy issue like healthcare. Whether the healthcare industry wants to rebut charges in Mr. Moore’s movie, or whether Mr. Moore wants to challenge the healthcare industry, advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue.

The essential message is the same: it doesn’t matter what we think about Michael Moore and his silly movie. It only matters how much you will pay us to place your ad for the newest blockbuster drug or bogus health service in our adwords system. Very democratic.

The people in Sicko who were denied the care they needed or couldn’t afford the expensive drugs didn’t have a democratic way to get their message out to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Instead, they are bombarded every day with commercials about how great Medicare Part D is, or how much they need that new treatment for restless leg syndrome. Hardly democratic.

Google’s corporate stance is that money talks. Which we all knew in the first place. And they’ll take your money and place your ad no matter who you are. It’s just hard to hear it from a company that claims to “share many of the concerns that Mr. Moore expresses about the cost and availability of health care in America” (Google’s main corporate blog).

They must know better. I wonder how they would have lobbied Rep. Anna Eshoo to vote on the ban on direct-to-consumer marketing that was slashed from last month’s FDA reform bill. This health advertising blog raises a couple of questions for me:

  • If a company is dedicated to lowering cost and increasing availability of health care, is it ethical for said company to accept advertising money from groups that work directly against these goals, such as pharmaceutical companies, quack doctors, or online pharmacies, to name a few?
  • Conversely, even if a company has these goals, is it counter to the ideal of free speech (synonymous with democracy for Google) to deny advertising to other companies or groups that work against these goals?
  • Really, I just want to know, what is Google doing trying to befriend and defend the healthcare industry?
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