Google is introducing high-quality medical data to its search engine, hoping to give users worried about that rash that won't go away some fact-checked peace of mind. Starting in the next few days, anyone Googling common health conditions will be presented with key information about their query including symptoms, treatments, and "details on how common the condition is — whether it’s critical, if it’s contagious, what ages it affects, and more."
One in 20 google searches are health-related
The internet giant knows it already has a massive audience for this information: internet-assisted hypochondriacs have been around for years now, and the company says that one in 20 Google searches are health-related. The data will be prominently displayed to users as part of the Knowledge Graph — those boxes of basic information that usually show up on the right side of searches carried out on laptops — and in some cases will be accompanied by "high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators."
"We worked with a team of medical doctors (led by our own Dr. Kapil Parakh, M.D., MPH, Ph.D.) to carefully compile, curate, and review this information," said Google product manager Prem Ramaswam. "All of the gathered facts represent real-life clinical knowledge from these doctors and high-quality medical sources across the web, and the information has been checked by medical doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic for accuracy."
Nevertheless, Google is at pains to remind users that the new feature "doesn’t mean these search results are intended as medical advice." The company doesn't want the liability of even pretending to replace doctors, but instead will give sniffling, aching, or sneezing users a starting point to carry out more research.
In essence, Google is simply standardizing a function it's been offering for years via third-party sources. But with more and more tech companies interested in handling medical data, it's hard not to see this announcement as part of a long-term plan as well. Googled medical data is a byword for unverified, scaremongering advice — by fact-checking this basic data in advance, Google can begin to build up some trust in its medical credentials. Apple's HealthKit app may be steps ahead of Google Fit in terms of partnerships with hospitals, but no-one can beat Google when it comes to broad reach. If customers can get used to trusting what Google has to say about tonsillitis, then they might be happier with trusting what it has to say about cancer too.