No one likes going to the doctor, so the popularity of online medical sites should come as no surprise – this despite the fact an online diagnosis will usually elicit a rolling of the eyes and a biting of the tongue from the GP when you do eventually make the trip to the doctor’s office.
Now Google is making efforts to return more relevant and trustworthy search results when you punch in your symptoms.
For most people, the first port of call when struck down by a new ache or pain is the internet. The problem is, as is so often the case when it comes to the internet, is sorting the wheat from the chaff. Google is now making it easier to find a diagnosis based on the symptoms you describe, offering a simpler way for people to see what might be causing their head/heart/tooth ache, and what might be the best way to handle it.
According to the team at Google, about one percent of all searches conducted on the site are symptom-related. That mightn’t sound like a lot, but one percent is still a lot of people when you consider the fact there are more than 50,000 Google searches made every second.
When you search for something reasonably specific like headache on one side, Google will provide you with a list of related conditions, potentially helping to identify whether you’re suffering a regular headache, migraine, tension headache or the common cold. These conditions are accompanied by information about options for self-treatment, as well as a friendly push in the right direction if an appointment with a real life doctor is necessary.
So, when did Google become such a medical know-it-all? Well, the reworked medical information is actually coming from the same place as before, just via a slightly more thorough vetting process. The list of symptoms comes from conditions mentioned in regular web results, but those symptoms are then cross-checked against a database collected by actual doctors, practicing actual medicine in the actual real world.
The database, and the results it provides, have been reviewed by doctors from Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic to make sure there are no glaringly obvious mistakes or misdiagnoses. That said, Google is keen to point out the system is still reliant on the same search results as before, so it’s not going to be perfect from the get-go. It’s also keen to point out that you’re still best off seeing your doctor, who can actually see you and base a diagnosis on physical evidence.
The update will be rolled out to mobile search in US English over the next few days, and there are plans to expand the number of languages (and symptoms) covered by the system over time.