Dean Rimer adds perspective to Google technology director’s presentation

November 02, 2006
The crowd started filing in more than a half hour early. Excited conversation filled the lobby while those with tickets found their seats. Others hoped for a chance at unused tickets, or took seats in the overflow area.

But this crowd was not attending a Carolina sports event or an opening at Memorial Hall. Instead, more than 600 Tar Heel faculty members, staff and students trekked to south campus last week to see a presentation by Google’s technology director, Craig Silverstein.


Photograph of Dean Barbara K. Rimer

Photograph of Dean Barbara K. Rimer

UNC School of Public Health Dean Barbara K. Rimer, MPH, DrPH , joined Silverstein on stage, along with three other panelists and moderator Paul Jones, founder and director of

After a quick review of Google’s history and mission, Silverstein focused on Google’s newer projects, such as Google Books, Google Scholar and Google Co-op, a new kind of subject directory that uses expert contributors to recommend and annotate websites. Health is one of the first six topics in Google Co-op.

“We get more health questions than any other single type,” said Silverstein. He noted that patients and physicians can make better health care decisions when empowered with health information. “[Google is] committed to improving health. We expect this will make Google an increasingly important gateway to health content for consumers and physicians.”

Dean Rimer agreed that Google plays a role for patients seeking information about medical conditions such as rare cancers. “Google helps people who don’t have natural affinity groups,” she said. “The majority of people who search the Internet about medical conditions say their relationship with their physician improved.” Most health providers now welcome an informed patient and find that it enhances care, she added.

But when health matters are involved, wrong or confusing information can have serious consequences. Rimer commented on Google’s responsibility to assist health consumers by providing the best information available. Current contributors to the health topic in Google Co-op include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Library of Medicine and the Mayo Clinic.

Silverstein also discussed the issues of language and literacy barriers when presenting health information. He said the problem is reconciling jargon with plain language.

“A highly motivated cancer patient might want information at the level of a professional,” said Rimer.

Joining Rimer on the panel were Dr. José-Marie Griffiths, professor and dean of the School of Information and Library Science; Carol G. Jenkins, director of the Health Sciences Library; and Fred Stutzman, PhD student in the School of Information and Library Science. UNC Provost Bernadette Gray-Little introduced Silverstein.

“I was delighted that Dean Rimer was a panelist,” said Edward Brooks, DrPH, clinical associate professor of health policy and administration, who attended the presentation. “Her practical, astute, knowledge-based comments added substantially to the quality of the event.”

Instructional and Information Systems Director David Potenziani, PhD, agreed. “Barbara was a good contributor to the panel, from her experience in and knowledge of health communication, especially the electronic kind, to her specific knowledge of cancer.”

“Organizing the World’s Information: Google’s Vision for the 21st Century” was sponsored by the Health Sciences Library in association with the School of Information and Library Sciences. For more information about Google Co-op’s health topic, visit


For more information, contact Ramona DuBose, director of communications for the UNC School of Public Health, by telephone at 919-966-7467 or by email at