Doctor Google offers medical advice

Latest addition to Google Now offers medical advice. Google has added a new component to its greatly-expanding Knowledge Graph by providing to users health information in Google searches.

Asking Google a medical question brings up specialized information, such as symptoms of an illness, it it’s contagious and what age range it affects.

Prem Ramaswami, Product Manager at Google said, “That doesn’t mean these search results are intended as medial advice. We know that cases can vary in severity from person to person and that there are bound to be exceptions. What we present is intended for informational purposes only – and you should always consult a health care professional if you have a medical concern.”. The tech giant has worked with the Mayo Clinic a not-for-profit medical research center, to create a database of over 400 common diseases that concerned Android users can ask Google Now about to research their illness.

Both the dangers and the benefits are clear to see. While it can be useful to know more about an illness you think you have, you could gain a misguided sense of confidence or panic from the enhanced information. The professional layout of the information could lead to people trusting them more than they should. The cards look very thorough, with diagrams from licensed medical illustrators, graphs showing the expected age range of the illness in question, a list of symptoms and several more pieces of information. Phil Hagen from the Mayo Clinic said, “As an editor and physician, i know how difficult it is to present concise, useful information. I think these should be viewed as the first stop for those needing health information.”

This feature is part of Google’s Knowledge Graph, an on-going project to turn Google from a search engine to a knowledge engine, attempting to learn from the millions of searches that go through it every day to become more intuitive. Google is learning what pathways people take after searching for a particular term and has begun to display the follow-on searches online and on mobile devices. The Health cards are just another part of this bid to make searching easier and less of a chore.

Google Health is still very much in the development phase, but there are plans to roll it out beyond the US in multiple languages and vastly increase the number of diseases available to search. Although Google stresses that the Health Cards should not replace the doctor, it will be very interesting to see how it is viewed by the medical community in the months to come.