Finding health services with Google Maps API



As part of a recent health Hackathon we wanted to collect some health information per suburb. Specifically we were looking for things like “how many hospitals are in this suburb?” As we were time constrained we decided to explore what the Google Maps API could give us. We already knew that Google Maps could provide this kind of information, e.g searching an area for hospitals. But could the API provide similar results? And what kind of accuracy would we get?

Google provides a few different libraries across different languages. If you plan to do anything more than a few simple queries I’d recommend you use one of the server side libraries (google calls them web services). The server side libraries provide nice features like Automatic Rate Limiting.

Before you can use any of the APIs you’ll need to get a key.

The APIs are broken down into specific domains such as Directions or Geolocation. For our use case we used the Places API, which lets you search for places either by proximity or a text string. The text string search allows you to specify a radius but it will still return results outside the radius, i.e it uses the radius for ranking. In contrast the proximity search will only return places within a certain radius around a location.

Finding how many Hospitals are in Darlinghurst:

const mc = require('@google/maps').createClient({
  key: 'YOUR_KEY'

const location = [-33.878101, 151.220386]; // Darlinghurst, AU
const r = 1000;
const request = {
    location: location,
    radius: r,
    type: 'hospital'

mc.placesNearby(request, function (err, res) {
    if (err) {
    console.log(JSON.stringify( (v) {

If you run the above code it’ll print out:

["Darlinghurst Medical Centre","Wordsworth House Medical Practice","Hyde Park Medical Centre - Sydney CBD","St Vincent's Private Hospital Sydney","Sydney Acupuncture Clinic","Sydney Day Surgery","Lord Surgery St Vincents's Private Hospital","Liverpool Street Medical Suites","Dr Maxine Szramka, Sydney Rheumatologist","Dr. Nick Vertzyas - Orthopaedic Surgeon","Ingrown Toenail Specialist Sydney","The Scottish Hospital","St. Vincents Hospital Alcohol & Drug Service","Tierney House","Blood & Marrow Transplant Network","Great Directions","Bourke Street Clinic","Centurion Healthcare","Potts Point Medical Practice","Creative Counsel"]

There’s 2 obvious issues here:

  1. The API has capped the result at 20.

  2. The result contains many places that I would not consider a hospital.

In regards to 1, the API let’s you ask for another page of results using a pagetoken in the request, but will at most give you 60 results in total.

In regard to 2, we can improve our search by adding a keyword to the request:

const request = {
    location: location,
    radius: r,
    type: 'hospital',
    keyword: 'hospital`

Which will result in:

["St Vincent's Hospital Sydney","St Vincent's Private Hospital Sydney","St. Vincents Hospital Alcohol & Drug Service","East Sydney Private Hospital","The Scottish Hospital","Hospital","Lord Surgery St Vincents's Private Hospital","Tierney House","Level 4, Xavier Building"]

So the Places API provides some filters that let you narrow down your results, but the accuracy isn’t great. The Places API also caps results at 60, which was ok for the hospital query but would probably be limiting for queries like doctors or clinics. For the Hackathon, the Places API was sufficient at getting an overview of health services in a suburb, but further investigation is required if we wanted to expand the idea further.

Sample source code available on github You’ll have to use your own key, as the one that’s there has been deleted.