Our collective health and wellbeing has taken center stage as the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. While extraordinary advances in science have delivered vaccines and new hope, for over a year we’ve had to consider what wellbeing means on a personal and global level. We’ve also asked ourselves how best to cope in an era of tremendous stress, grief and isolation.
Many of us intuitively turned to arts and cultural activities as a source of comfort and healing. To honor World Health Day and support our recovery and resilience, we are launching a new experience: Arts + Health & Wellbeing.
Artists have always deeply understood the healing power of the arts from music, poetry and painting to dance and design. Technological leaps in brain imagery and biomarkers are now helping scientists confirm what we’ve all sensed: art heals. Evidence shows that many forms of art can play an important role during treatment and recovery of people living with illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and PTSD. More broadly, the arts relieve stress, anxiety and depression, boost our mood and create stronger connections to ourselves and others.
Like regular exercise or a good night’s sleep, the arts are proving important to our health and wellbeing.
The best discovery is that the arts are for everyone. Regardless of experience or talent, you can enjoy their health benefits today. Take a moment to support your own health and wellbeing — start by doing “The Cultural 5” with the World Health Organization, or enjoy a daily dose of arts and culture activities below:
1. Try these breathing exercises with Soprano singer Renée Fleming to help increase breath capacity — for many who have experienced COVID-19, breathing is a challenge, one that can remain difficult after they recover from the most acute phase of the illness. Renée Fleming shares breathing exercises with anyone trying to regain better breath after illness.
3. Dive into a sea of images and explore which artworks represent your emotions. Scientists from The University of California, Berkeley conducted research on the emotions evoked by artworks through time, and across cultures. We asked 1,300 people to describe how certain images make them feel, and plotted these feelings on an interactive map for you to explore. Find how your emotions compare to others.
4. Watch “For the imperfect people,” a spoken word video on the topic of mental health, written by students of SocialWorks’ OpenMike program, and in collaboration with Johns Hopkins International Arts + Mind Lab. Learn about the science behind how spoken word and poetry can help people heal emotionally while creating community connections and reducing stress and isolation.
5. Slow down your body tempo with Stille (Silence Film), an experimental film aimed at giving viewers a visceral and meditative experience of silence, viewed through the lens of the German film director Thomas Riedelsheimer.
Every year, approximately 40 million women undergo breast-cancer screening in the U.S. using a procedure called mammography. For some, this can be a nerve-wracking experience; many wait days or weeks before a radiologist can review their scan and provide initial screening results. Between 10 and 15 percent of women must return for a second visit and undergo more scans before receiving a final diagnostic assessment – drawing out the process further.
Together with Northwestern Medicine, Google Health is working on a new clinical research study to explore whether artificial intelligence (AI) models can help reduce the time to diagnosis, narrowing the assessment gap and improving the patient experience.
Women who choose to take part in the study may have their mammograms reviewed by an investigational AI model that flags scans for immediate review by a radiologist if they show a higher likelihood of breast cancer. If a radiologist determines that further imaging is required, the woman will have the option to undergo this imaging on the same day. This study will evaluate whether this prioritization could reduce the amount of time that women spend waiting for a diagnostic assessment. Women whose mammograms are not flagged will continue to have their images reviewed within regular timeframes.
“Through this study, Northwestern Medicine aims to improve the excellent care we deliver to our patients every day. With the use of artificial intelligence, we hope to expedite the process to diagnosis of breast cancer by identifying suspicious findings on patients’ screening examinations earlier than the standard of care,” says study principal investigator Dr. Sarah Friedewald, chief of breast imaging at Northwestern Medicine and vice chair for women’s imaging in radiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “Every patient in the study will continue to have their mammograms interpreted by a radiologist, but the artificial intelligence will flag and prioritize patients that need additional imaging, facilitating the flow of care.”
This research study with Northwestern Medicine builds on previous research which demonstrated the potential of AI models to analyze de-identified retrospectively collected screening mammograms with similar or better accuracy than clinicians.
Artificial intelligence has shown great potential to improve health care outcomes; the next challenge is to demonstrate how AI can be applied in the real-world. At Google Health, we’re committed to working with clinicians, patients and others to harness advances in research and ultimately bring about better and more accessible care.
Editor’s note: Today’s post is by Evan Landis, Chief Product Officer with VaxCare. The company aims to simplify vaccination for healthcare providers. VaxCare partnered with Social Mobile to create custom devices managed with Android Enterprise for its customers.
The intense worldwide effort to vaccinate against COVID-19 has highlighted some of the core challenges that have always existed in expanding protections against preventable diseases.
At VaxCare, our mission for more than 10 years has been to simplify vaccination programs, easing the logistical barriers to increasing vaccination rates. Our digital platform is designed to help healthcare professionals modernize their vaccination programs, reduce costs and focus on their patients.
Android devices are central to this strategy. Recently, we partnered with Social Mobile who designed and built bespoke, Google Mobile Services-certified devices that interface with our digital platform. The flexibility of Android Enterprise enabled us to build solutions aligned to our customer needs with simple, flexible management and security tools.
A better customer experience with Android
Social Mobile helped us create custom devices that are simple to set up, use and update, while still meeting HIPAA and HITRUST certification compliance. We were inspired by consumer-facing, point-of-sale devices and the flexibility of the Android platform to create an ideal hardware solution for our customers.
The VaxCare Hub is our stationary, in-practice integrated device with a 13-inch touchscreen, a camera and a scanner that is the main gateway to our platform. When vaccinating patients, healthcare providers scan the dose and view the vaccine and patient information, ensuring accuracy before administering the vaccine.
As a dedicated device tied to our service, healthcare providers always have access to quickly look up the status of their inventory and get updates on new vaccine shipments.
To design for the new contexts and places where vaccines are administered, we also worked with Social Mobile to create the VaxCare Mobile Hub. This smaller dedicated Android Enterprise device also connects to our Portal service and gives healthcare providers the flexibility to get the information they need no matter where they are administering vaccines.
Having this vital information readily available in this purpose-built, rugged device has produced efficiency for our network of over 10,000 providers. Since launching the Mobile Hub device in September 2020, they administered over 650,000 flu shots during the 2020 season. One partner practice saw their immunization rates increase 54 percent year-over-year.
Flexible management solutions
Android Enterprise provides comprehensive tools for rapid and secure device enrollment and flexible management, which we enable for our devices through Social Mobile’s Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) platform, Mambo.
With zero-touch enrollment, we enable a quick and simple device startup experience for customers. After unboxing and powering on the device, it’s automatically enrolled and configured for use with our application. Devices are managed in lock task mode, which locks a device to a specific set of apps, so customers are always connected to our VaxCare Portal.
Security and privacy are critical to any healthcare setting. As a device with Google Mobile Services, the VaxCare Hub and Mobile Hub use Android multi-layered security to continually monitor and protect critical data. We have confidence in the platform security features to ensure we meet the security and privacy promise we make to our customers.
Help for a vaccine surge
With Android Enterprise, we’ve set ourselves up to scale as we see an increased demand for vaccines and offerings like VaxCare. We’ve been able to quickly bring online support for our partners in the public phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. We’ve optimized our platform to assist any of our providers who enroll in a public vaccination program to manage inventory, record-keeping and billing.
As we continue our mission of helping the healthcare community more simply deliver vaccines, we’re confident that Android and Social Mobile’s custom solutions will continue to be a major component of our hardware and software strategy to support the healthcare community.
Data has always been a vital tool in understanding and fighting disease — from Florence Nightingale’s 1800s hand drawn illustrations that showed how poor sanitation contributed to preventable diseases to the first open source repository of datadeveloped in response to the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa. When the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Wuhan, data again became one of the most critical tools to combat the pandemic.
A group of researchers, who documented the initial outbreak, quickly joined forces and started collecting data that could help epidemiologists around the world model the trajectory of the novel coronavirus outbreak. The researchers came from University of Oxford, Tsinghua University, Northeastern University and Boston Children’s Hospital, among others.
However, their initial workflow was not designed for the exponential rise in cases. The researchers turned to Google.org for help. As part of Google’s $100 million contribution to COVID relief, Google.org granted $1.25 million in funding and provided a team of 10 fulltime Google.org Fellows and 7 part-time Google volunteers to assist with the project.
Google volunteers worked with the researchers to create Global.health, a scalable and open-access platform that pulls together millions of anonymized COVID-19 cases from over 100 countries. This platform helps epidemiologists around the world model the trajectory of COVID-19, and track its variants and future infectious diseases.
The need for trusted and anonymized case data
When an outbreak occurs, timely access to organized, trustworthy and anonymized data is critical for public health leaders to inform early policy decisions, medical interventions, and allocations of resources — all of which can slow disease spread and save lives. The insights derived from “line-list” data (e.g. anonymized case level information), as opposed to aggregated data such as case counts, are essential for epidemiologists to perform more detailed statistical analyses and model the effectiveness of interventions.
Volunteers at the University of Oxford started manually curating this data, but it was spread over hundreds of websites, in dozens of formats, in multiple languages. The HealthMap team at Boston Children’s Hospital also identified early reports of COVID-19 through automated indexing of news sites and official sources. These two teams joined forces, shared the data, and published peer-reviewed findings to create a trusted resource for the global community.
Enter the Google.org Fellowship
To help the global community of researchers in this meaningful endeavour, Google.org decided to offer the support of 10 Google.org Fellows who spent 6 months working full-time onGlobal.health, in addition to $1.25M in grant funding. Working hand in hand with the University of Oxford and Boston Children’s Hospital, the Google.org team spoke to researchers and public health officials working on the frontline to understand real-life challenges they faced when finding and using high-quality trusted data — a tedious and manual process that often takes hours.
Upholding data privacy is key to the platform’s design. The anonymized data used at Global.health comes from open-access authoritative public health sources, and a panel of data experts rigorously checks it to make sure it meets strict anonymity requirements. The Google.org Fellows assisted the Global.health team to design the data ingestion flow to implement best practices for data verification and quality checks to make sure that no personal data made its way into the platform. (All line-list data added to the platform is stored and hosted in Boston Children’s Hospital’s secure data infrastructure, not Google’s.)
Looking to the future
With the support of Google.org and The Rockefeller Foundation, Global.health has grown into an international consortium of researchers at leading universities curating the most comprehensive line-list COVID-19 database in the world. It includes millions of anonymized records from trusted sources spanning over 100 countries.
Today, Global.health helps researchers across the globe access data in a matter of minutes and a series of clicks. The flexibility of the Global.health platform means that it can be adapted to any infectious disease data and local context as new outbreaks occur. Global.health lays a foundation for researchers and public health officials to access this data no matter their location, be it New York, São Paulo, Munich, Kyoto or Nairobi.
Healthcare professionals are healers, not data clerks. Yet many clinicians spend half their day on a computer navigating electronic health records (EHRs) and other systems. Because health records are often scattered across multiple systems, getting a full picture of a patient’s health requires a great deal of clinicians’ time, energy, and resources. These gaps in patient information can contribute to less effective and efficient care. The Google Health team started to think about how we could bring Google’s experience in organizing complex information to healthcare.
Driven by this idea, we created Care Studio, a software solution that provides a comprehensive view of a patient’s records and allows clinicians to quickly search through complex patient information. Care Studio is built for clinicians and works alongside EHR systems; it streamlines workflows and supports more proactive care. We’ve been working with the healthcare organization Ascension on a pilot of Care Studio focused on data quality and product safety with a small group of clinicians based in Nashville, TN and Jacksonville, FL. The pilot is now expanding to more physicians and nurses in the clinical setting.
How Care Studio supports clinicians
Care Studio streamlines key clinician workflows so that teams can quickly get the information they need to care for patients. It brings together patient records from the multiple EHRs an organization uses – giving clinicians a centralized view of patient data and the ability to search across these records.
We’ve honed our search capabilities based on medical terminology and clinical shorthand, so that clinicians can simply type what they’re looking for into a search bar and instantly surface relevant patient record information. Still, a patient’s history can be long and complex, making important details difficult to find. Care Studio uses Google technology to display relevant information in fewer clicks. For example, Care Studio can automatically organize the medications in a patient’s history with information on dosing and when they were prescribed. The tool also makes it easy to find pertinent information, including lab results, procedure orders, medication orders and progress notes.
Care Studio harmonizes medical data across different systems. For example, even though health systems report measurements like blood pressure or glucose levels using different units, Care Studio automatically converts them so they are easier for a clinician to understand and compare.
Keeping health information private and secure
We know healthcare data is sensitive and personal, and it’s our responsibility to keep it private and secure. Google does not own, nor do we ever sell, patient data. This data from Care Studio cannot be used for advertising. Our team designed Care Studio to adhere to industry best practices and regulations, including HIPAA.
We implement administrative, technical and physical safeguards to protect information. Patient data is encrypted and isolated in a controlled environment, separate from other customer data and consumer data. Consistent with industry best practices, we also participate in regular audits and external certifications such as ISO 27001 and SOC2/3, where auditors validate Care Studio’s processes for safeguarding customer data. With these certifications, third-party specialists make sure we follow a framework of controls for a comprehensive and continually evolving model for managing security.
Taking our next step toward clinical impact
Based on feedback from Ascension, we’ve fine tuned Care Studio so it displays relevant clinical information from their systems accurately and in a way that’s useful to their physicians and nurses. Now we’re ready to expand our pilot in the clinical setting to further optimize the product for broader usage at Ascension. A select group of clinicians at facilities in Nashville, TN and Jacksonville, FL will use an early release of Care Studio alongside their existing tools during care delivery. We hope to get their feedback to further improve its usability, make the tool more useful to them and better integrate into current workflows.
Our aim is to bring Google’s experience in organizing complex information into intuitive, useful formats for the healthcare industry. As more Ascension clinicians begin using Care Studio, we look forward to supporting them in caring for their patients.
Mobile devices have become essential daily tools for people all over the world — from staying connected to taking pictures and accessing information. Thanks to sensors that are already built into smartphones — like your microphone, camera and accelerometer — these devices can also be helpful for daily health and wellness.
Heart rate and respiratory rate are two vital signs commonly used to assess your health and wellness. Starting next month, Google Fit will allow you to measure your heart rate and respiratory rate using just your phone’s camera. These features will be available in the Google Fit app for Pixel phones, with plans to expand to more Android devices.
To measure your respiratory rate, you just need to place your head and upper torso in view of your phone’s front-facing camera and breathe normally. To measure your heart rate, simply place your finger on the rear-facing camera lens.
While these measurements aren’t meant for medical diagnosis or to evaluate medical conditions, we hope they can be useful for people using the Google Fit app to track and improve day-to-day wellness. Once the measurements are made, you can choose to save them in the app to monitor trends over time, alongside other health and wellness information.
Developed to work for more people in real-world conditions
Thanks to increasingly powerful sensors and advances in computer vision, these features let you use your smartphone’s camera to track tiny physical signals at the pixel level — like chest movements to measure your respiratory rate and subtle changes in the color of your fingers for your heart rate.
We developed both features — and completed initial clinical studies to validate them — so they work in a variety of real-world conditions and for as many people as possible. For example, since our heart rate algorithm relies on approximating blood flow from color changes in someone’s fingertip, it has to account for factors such as lighting, skin tone, age and more in order to work for everyone.
With continued advances in hardware and software, sometimes the device that could be most helpful to your health and wellness is already in your pocket. Our team of researchers, engineers, and clinicians are exploring how everyday devices and inexpensive sensors can give people the information and insights they need to take control of their health.
You can learn more about our work in this area by tuning in to The Check Up, a virtual event showcasing how Google is working to tackle some of the biggest challenges in health.
The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on communities worldwide. While there is much uncertainty still ahead, the development of multiple safe vaccines in such a short time gives us reason for hope. Now the work begins to ensure that everyone can benefit from this triumph of scientific achievement, and quickly.
During the pandemic, Google has helped people get the information they need to keep their families safe and healthy. We’ve supported small businesses and partnered with Apple to build exposure notification technology to fight the spread of COVID-19 around the world. Now, as public health authorities ramp up vaccination efforts, we’re finding more ways to help.
We recognize that getting vaccines to people is a complex problem to solve, and we’re committed to doing our part. Today we’re announcing that we’re providing more than $150 million to promote vaccine education and equitable distribution and making it easier to find locally relevant information, including when and where to get the vaccine. We’ll also be opening up Google spaces to serve as vaccination sites as needed.
$150 million to promote vaccine education and equitable access
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve helped more than 100 government agencies and global non-governmental organizations run critical public service health announcements through our Ad Grants Crisis Relief program. Today, we’re announcing an additional $100 million in ad grants for the CDC Foundation, the World Health Organization, and nonprofits around the globe. We’ll invest another $50 million in partnership with public health agencies to reach underserved communities with vaccine-related content and information.
Our efforts will focus heavily on equitable access to vaccines. Early data in the U.S. shows that disproportionately affected populations, especially people of color and those in rural communities, aren’t getting access to the vaccine at the same rates as other groups. To help, Google.org has committed $5 million in grants to organizations addressing racial and geographic disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations, including Morehouse School of Medicine’sSatcher Health Leadership Institute and the CDC Foundation.
Highlighting authoritative information and local vaccination sites on Search & Maps
To help find accurate and timely information on vaccines, we’ve expanded our information panels on Search to more than 40 countries and dozens of languages, with more rolling out in the coming week. We’ll begin showing state and regional distribution information on Search so people can easily find when they are eligible to receive a vaccine. Soon we’ll launch a “Get The Facts” initiative across Google and YouTube to get authoritative information out to the public about vaccines.
Searches for “vaccines near me” have increased 5x since the beginning of the year and we want to make sure we’re providing locally relevant answers. In the coming weeks, COVID-19 vaccination locations will be available in Google Search and Maps, starting with Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, with more states and countries to come. We’ll include details like whether an appointment or referral is required, if access is limited to specific groups, or if it has a drive-through. We’re working with partners like VaccineFinder.org, an initiative of Boston Children’s Hospital, and other authoritative sources, such as government agencies and retail pharmacies, to gather vaccination location information and make it available.
Opening our spaces for vaccination clinics
To help with vaccination efforts, starting in the United States, we’ll make select Google facilities—such as buildings, parking lots and open spaces—available as needed. These sites will be open to anyone eligible for the vaccine based on state and local guidelines. We’ll start by partnering with health care provider One Medicaland public health authorities to open sites in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area in California; Kirkland, Washington; and New York City, with plans to expand nationally. We’re working with local officials to determine when sites can open based on local vaccine availability.
Using our technology to improve vaccine distribution
Google Cloud is helping healthcare organizations, retail pharmacies, logistics companies, and public sector institutions make use of innovative technologies to speed up delivery of vaccines. For example, logistics companies are using our AI to optimize trucking operations by adapting to traffic or inclement weather, and detect temperature fluctuations during transport. Once vaccines reach their destination, our tools help facilitate pre-screening, scheduling, and follow up. And our Intelligent Vaccine Impact Platform is helping states like New York and North Carolina manage distribution and forecast where vaccines, personal protective equipment, and hospital staffing will be most needed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected every community all over the world. It’s also inspired coordination between public and private sectors, and across international borders, on a remarkable scale. We can’t slow down now. Getting vaccines to billions of people won’t be easy, but it’s one of the most important problems we’ll solve in our lifetimes. Google will continue to support in whatever way we can.
For the last eight months we’ve been working with Apple on the Exposure Notifications System (ENS) to help public health authorities in their efforts to contain COVID-19. We wanted to provide an update on this work.
Saving lives at all levels of adoption
Since May, when this technology became available, public health authorities have launched Exposure Notifications in more than 50 countries, states and regions—an average of two apps each week. This week, California became the latest U.S. state to launch an app using ENS, joining the list of regions who have already made apps available.
By simply downloading your regional app, you can help public health authorities in their efforts to control COVID-19. There’s plenty of evidence that people are doing this: 40 percent of the population in the UK and 17 percent of the population in Uruguay have downloaded the app. In the United States, 20 percent of Colorado and 53 percent of Washington D.C. have enabled EN. There are other anecdotal signs that the system is helping: In September, the Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, received an exposure notification, and in November, the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, had been infected and used Exposure Notifications to alert staff members who may have been exposed.
Research has revealed that exposure notifications can “save lives at all levels of uptake” and showed that a staff dedicated to working on contact tracing combined with 15 percent of the population using exposure notifications could reduce infections by 15 percent and deaths by 11 percent. In Ireland, early reports from their app indicated there were hundreds of EN notifications from people who had uploaded positive test results. A recent pilot in Spain showed that it could detect almost twice as many potential infections than manual contact tracing.
Apple and Google’s framework offers a backbone for building privacy-centered apps for rapid exchange of data that can help protect and save lives.Judy Monroe
MD, President and CEO, CDC Foundation
Evolving based on feedback
Exposure Notifications became available to public health agencies in May to build apps on both Android phones and iPhones. It was built on feedback resulting from more than one hundred technical briefings with state public health officers, state epidemiologists, and where appropriate, their commissioned app developers. Major public health organizations that have been consulted include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC Foundation, the Association of Public Health Laboratories, the American Public Health Association, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and the Task Force for Global Health.
In July, based on feedback, we published some updates to ENS including the reference verification server, implementation code, and telemetry design. Since then, U.S. public health authorities that have not yet designed their own apps and want more support in launching an app can use Exposure Notifications Express. This reduces the time it takes public health authorities to develop an app by simply providing Google and Apple with a configuration file, which is then used to provide exposure notifications. Many of these apps in the United States work together so that if you travel across state lines you can still get exposure notifications. The Association of Public Health Laboratories made this possible by hosting a national key server and they offer a list of interoperable U.S. apps. We want to be flexible and support whatever approach works best on a country by country level.
The goal of this project is to assist public health authorities in their efforts by enabling exposure notification in a privacy-preserving manner. We will continue to work with them to help you protect yourself and your community during this pandemic and we plan to keep you updated here with new information again next year.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, teams across Google have worked to provide quality information and resources to help keep people safe, and to provide public health, scientists and medical professionals with tools to combat the pandemic. We’ve launched more than 200 new products, features and initiatives—including the Exposure Notification API to assist contact tracing—and have pledged over $1 billion to assist our users, customers and partners around the world.
As the world turns its focus to the deployment of vaccines, the type of information people need will evolve. Communities will be vaccinated at an unprecedented pace and scale. This will require sharing information to educate the public, including addressing vaccine misperceptions and hesitance, and helping to surface official guidance to people on when, where and how to get vaccinated.
Today, we’re sharing about how we’re working to meet these needs—through our products and partnering with health authorities—while keeping harmful misinformation off our platforms.
Raising authoritative information
Beginning in the United Kingdom, we’re launching a new feature on Search so when people look up information for COVID-19 vaccines, we will surface a list of authorized vaccines in their location, as well as information panels on each individual vaccine. As other health authorities begin authorizing vaccines, we’ll introduce this new feature in more countries.
Launched in March, our COVID-19 information panels on YouTube have been viewed 400 billion times, making them an important source of authoritative information. These panels are featured on the YouTube homepage, and on videos and in search results about the pandemic. Updates to the panels will connect people directly to vaccine information from global and local health authorities. Because YouTube creators are a trusted voice within their communities, we’re also supporting creators by connecting them with leading health experts to make helpful and engaging content for their audiences about COVID-19 and vaccines.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve given $250 million in Ad Grants to help more than 100 government agencies around the world run critical public service announcements about COVID-19. Grantees can use these funds throughout 2021, including for vaccine education and outreach campaigns, and we’re announcing today an additional $15 million in Ad Grants to the World Health Organization (WHO) to assist their global campaign.
Supporting quality reporting and information on vaccines
Journalism continues to play a crucial role in informing people about the pandemic, sharing expert knowledge about vaccines, and proactively debunking misinformation about the immunization process. In April, we gave $6.5 million to support COVID-19 related fact-checking initiatives, which have provided training or resources to nearly 10,000 reporters around the world.
Now, the Google News Initiative is providing an additional $1.5 million to fund the creation of a COVID-19 Vaccine Media Hub and support new fact-checking research. Led by the Australian Science Media Centre, and with support from technology non-profit Meedan, the hub will be a resource for journalists, providing around-the-clock access to scientific expertise and research updates. The initiative includes science media centers and public health experts from Latin America, Africa, Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region, with content being made available in seven languages.
To better understand what type of fact-checking can effectively counteract misinformation about vaccines, we’re funding research by academics at Columbia, George Washington and Ohio State universities. This research project will survey citizens in ten countries to find out what kinds of formats, headlines and sources are most effective in correcting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and whether fact checks that follow these best practices impact willingness to get vaccinated.
Protecting our platforms against misinformation
Across our products, we’ve had long-standing policies prohibiting harmful and misleading medical or health-related content. When COVID-19 hit, our global Trust and Safety team worked to stop a variety of abuses stemming from the pandemic: phishing attempts, malware, dangerous conspiracy theories, and fraud schemes. Our teams have also been planning for new threats and abuse patterns related specifically to COVID-19 vaccines. For example, in October, we expanded our COVID-19 medical misinformation policy on YouTube to remove content about vaccines that contradicts consensus from health authorities, such as the Centers for Disease Control or the WHO. Our teams have removed more than 700,000 videos related to dangerous or misleading COVID-19 medical information. We also continue to remove harmful COVID-19 misinformation across other products like Ads, Google Maps, and the Play store.
The fight against the pandemic and the development of new vaccines has required global collaboration between the public health sector, and the scientific and medical communities. As work begins to vaccinate billions of people, we’ll support these efforts with additional products and features to ensure people have the right information at the right time.
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of research in providing information about disease and treatments. However, it’s challenging for researchers to recruit enough volunteers so that studies are representative of the general population. To make it easier for leading research institutions to connect with potential study participants, we’re introducing the Google Health Studies app with the first study focused on respiratory illness.
With the new app, anyone with an Android phone can take part in health studies by answering survey questions and contributing relevant data. The app provides a platform for researchers to reach a large and diverse population so they can better understand human health, while providing the public with greater opportunities to contribute to medical research.
Keeping participant data private, safe and secure
In building the app we focused on three principles: keeping information safe, treating it responsibly, and putting participants in control. When participants use the Google Health Studies app, their data is protected with Google’s advanced security. All information is encrypted and research data is stored securely.
We also give participants transparency and control over their personal information. For each study, participants can clearly see what data is being contributed, and when and why it’s shared. To protect participants’ personal information we adhere to strict privacy policies. Study data will only be used for the purposes that are explicitly consented to in the research study and will not be sold, shared with advertisers, or be used to show participants ads. The Google Health Studies app also makes it easy for participants to understand their contributions to each study, as well as access research findings when they become available.
Studying respiratory illnesses
We’ve partnered with researchers from Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital for the first study, which will help scientists and public health communities better understand respiratory illnesses, including influenza and COVID-19.
This Respiratory Health Study will be open to adults in the U.S., and will focus on identifying how these types of illnesses evolve in communities and differ across risk factors such as age, and activities such as travel. Study participants will use the Google Health Studies app to regularly self-report how they feel, what symptoms they may be experiencing, any preventative measures they’ve taken, and additional information such as COVID-19 or influenza test results. By taking part in this study, volunteers can represent their community in medical research, and contribute to global efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With COVID-19 emerging alongside seasonal respiratory pathogens, research is now needed more than ever to develop more effective treatments and mitigation strategies,” says Dr. John Brownstein, professor at Harvard Medical School and Chief Innovation Officer of the Boston Children’s Hospital. “Google Health Studies provides people with a secure and easy way to take part in medical research, while letting researchers discover novel epidemiological insights into respiratory diseases.”
In collaboration with Google Research, this first study utilizes federated learning and analytics—a privacy technology that keeps a person’s data stored on the device, while allowing researchers to discover aggregate insights based on encrypted, combined updates from many devices. This means researchers in this study can examine trends to understand the link between mobility (such as the number of daily trips a person makes outside the home) and the spread of COVID-19, This same approach powers typing predictions on Gboard, without Google seeing what individuals type.
The Google Health Studies app is now available in the Google Play Store, and we’re inviting people to download the app to join this initial study. We look forward to partnering with health researchers and to making it possible for more people to participate in these important studies.