I was up at night recently with a itchy and inflamed eye. I wasn’t sure if this was a stay-at-home kind of illness but I thought it might be good to have a medical professional look at it. I have insurance so I didn’t have to wonder about whether I could afford to seek help or not.
Since it was an eye thing, my husband suggested looking up an ophthalmologist he had visited before who had a practice fairly close by. Enter Google. I looked up “Augenarzt 1190” which means eye doctors in my district in Vienna. Sure enough I got a list of practicing doctors in my district that looked like this:
Great. I find some names, some addresses and one whose actual office hours are listed. In several cases, one click leads me to a further platform which should supposedly help me narrow down my choices, like this:
Yes, I get names, addresses and phone numbers and reviews. I’m not as concerned with someone’s opinion as I am with location and time. And there are several of these types of platforms: docfinder, Arztsuche24, or netdoktor. They represent the marketplace more than real access to critical help.
So my eye is itching like crazy, I’m deciding if I can/should/will go to school and/or see a doctor about it and I’m having a difficult time finding all the information that I need in one place to make some useful decisions.
The information I really need is: the doctor’s location, if she or he is available right now, and what kind of insurance he or she accepts. Google and these other platforms say they want to help me but they don’t particularly care about my itchy eye. Instead their emphasis is on presenting me with options for which others have paid to get to my eyes first (itchy or not).
After my initial bout of searching, I huffed into the kitchen frustrated at how much effort the whole thing required, still without a significant lead beyond learning that my general practitioner would have office hours in the afternoon.
Thankfully, I remembered an alternative. Old school, but ultimately more effective in this situation: the white pages. In the Austrian edition, the physicians’ pages are marked with red edges. If there are large numbers (i.e., general physicians, they often group doctors by district which is particularly helpful. Also included in the listings are office hours and insurance acceptance. Essentially, everything I really need.
Ultimately I solved the situation differently, making use of privileged connections which did not immediately occur to me. Our school nurse maintains a list of English speaking physicians for our international community. From that selection I decided to call a general practitioner who has long standing connection to the school. I described my situation, she volunteered to call in a prescription to the pharmacy which lay directly on my way to school. It all worked perfectly. I got the medicine, I worked all day without incident. My eye is almost all better.
What was striking for me though in this whole scenario was recognizing how the monetization of search may not be helping us in the ways we think it can and should. Yes, we seem to be getting a lot of information for free. But is it the information we need, offered in the way that is most beneficial? In my situation, definitely not. Rather I had a surplus of information but not the critical signposts and filters to collate that information usefully.
The market needs consumers, not people in crisis or difficulty or lacking literacy. My itchy eye was not interested in shopping but Google and its business model assumes that shopping is our primary (if not only) objective.
That is a fundamental problem. Especially when we need help and not markets.