Google Health Knowledge Graph—Implications for Pharma

An introduction by Chris Everly, Vice President, SEO: 

Back in 2012, Google launched what they called their “Knowledge Graph.” It provided additional information about certain search queries that appeared to the right of the search results. The intention was to provide information quickly about a topic so that users did not have to perform multiple searches. For example, a search for “Academy Awards” triggers the Knowledge Graph to the right of the results, with more information about Sunday night’s winners.

Google has now updated their Knowledge Graph to address certain health-related searches. For example, a search for “flu” or “rheumatoid arthritis” will now generate Knowledge Graph information. At the bottom of this post you will find the SEO team’s POV on this update and implications for pharma marketers.


A response from Michael Golub, Chief Medical Officer:

It is interesting that Google chose not to leverage the full weight/heft/power of their data, by including regional trends in search behavior in the Knowledge Graphs for infectious diseases such as flu, common cold, and gastroenteritis. Such a feature would quickly catapult Google ahead of many other healthcare sites they are competing with. Perhaps they will do this during Phase II of the Knowledge Health Graph initiative.

It would seem that inserting a “find a doctor/find a specialist/find a Minute Clinic (or the equivalent) near you” feature would nicely leverage the GPS/maps function and, again, make this a much more unique, one-stop shop for health info seekers. And it would boost their ad revenue with a very valuable form of contextually (time, space, and symptoms) relevant advertising. As if Google needed more ad revenue.

Even without these features, in our time-constrained, one-click-and-I’m-gone society, instant health information is (yet another!) useful service from Google.


More thoughts from Lee Fraser, VP/Group Director, Science and Medicine

This is an interesting feature, but the current implementation is a bit concerning. It might really streamline the search for patients, but in a biased way.

To understand things better I focused on cancer. Let’s use melanoma as a specific example. In terms of treatment options listed in the Knowledge Graph, there are only three options, listed as follows: “interferon alfa-2b, Vemurafenib (Zelboraf), Dabrafenib.”


Lack of Comprehensive Treatments
The list of treatments that currently appears in the side rail for melanoma is not comprehensive—only three drugs are included. There are many other FDA-approved therapies that are currently approved for the treatment of melanoma that are not included in the Knowledge Graph at all. If I was a patient and received this info, I might believe that there are only three drugs that are available for melanoma. Yervoy, Mekinist, and Keytruda, are not even included in this list, yet represent some of the cutting edge options in this therapeutic area.


For the 3 melanoma therapies that are listed, there is no consistency in nomenclature. The brand name is used for one drug, the generic name for another, and both for the third. It is unclear how this is determined, but it is inconsistent at best. This is also the case for other tumor types. As an example in the Knowledge Bar for Breast Cancer, Herceptin, a market-leading drug for breast cancer, isn’t mentioned by brand name at all, but other drugs are. From a branding perspective there is a bias in how drugs are presented that doesn’t make sense. If name recognition is important, sponsors will need to intervene to ensure Google is consistent going forward.


Blunt tool
The fact that this is such a blunt tool makes it likely that it will be the first screen for patients on their first search post-diagnosis. For many health issues that is probably not a factor, but for things like cancer or other life threatening illnesses it presents a problem. Patients with these diagnoses want to know two things: how long will I live and what are my options. Given the urgency with which treatment decisions are made in some disease areas, Google runs the risk of not providing patients with all of the information they need. Simplicity is good, but not if it compromises a patient’s knowledge of their true options.


Read the full POV here.