Over the course of this past week, Google has launched what they’re calling “a remedy for your health-related questions.”
This new feature will put health info in the Knowledge Graph, the information pieced together on the right-hand side of desktop and laptop search results or at the top of mobile device search results. Now, when users search for, say, “chicken pox,” they’ll see a summary of clinically verified information about it in the Knowledge Graph, just as they will often see the contact information, hours, and location for the results of a restaurant search.
“We’ll show you typical symptoms and treatments, as well as details on how common the condition is—whether it’s critical, if it’s contagious, what ages it affects, and more,” says Google Product Manager Prem Ramaswami. “For some conditions you’ll also see high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators.”
Since the Knowledge Graph typically pulls information from sites like Wikipedia, Google worked closely with healthcare professionals to confirm that the data was accurate and suitable for general use. USA Today reports that to start, 400 of the most common medical search terms have each been reviewed by an average of 11 doctors, as well as the Mayo Clinic. But Google will continue to add more terms.
Google hopes that people will be better able to approach common medical questions and be more prepared to discuss concerns with their doctor. Dr. Andrew Goddard of UK’s Royal College of Physicians told BBC, “The public have come to rely on Google and other search engines so it is important we understand how best to use these resources to allow people and patients to be engaged with their health and healthcare.”
Ramaswami cautions that the new health search results are for “informational purposes only” and are in no way intended to replace the advice of a licensed healthcare provider. “You should always consult a healthcare professional if you have a medical concern,” he says.
The new medical search will make important health information more accessible worldwide, particularly in developing countries. “When you’re a parent in India or Brazil or sub-Saharan Africa, and your child is sick and all you might have for help is your smartphone, this information might really matter,” says Google VP Amit Singhal, who is originally from India.
The benefits of having quick access to accurate data on common health questions are obvious. At the same time, The Verge points out that there are plenty of tech companies out there that show interest in medical data. Since Google thrives off being the ultimate data source, there are most certainly other strategic plans for the new medical search feature besides bringing valuable health information to the public. What potential business partnerships could Google have in mind with this feature?