Impatient

Helping make the health care system work for you

Google aims to cure misleading medical searches

Google says its new health-related search results should not be mistaken as medical advice.
Google says its new health-related search results should not be mistaken as medical advice. jfcherry via Flickr for Creative Commons

Can you remember the last time you looked up a symptom or health condition on Google?

I remember referring to Dr. Google in college. I was lethargic and losing weight. The search engine led me to results that made me think I had AIDS. Turns out, I was just anemic.

I'm not alone in my online search for a diagnosis: According to Google, one in 20 searches are for health-related information. And a 2012 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Internet users said they looked online for health information in the past year.

It's so common, in fact, that there's now a term – cyberchondria – for when researching your symptoms online fuels anxiety about your health.

Better searches

Now Google says it wants to dramatically improve the quality of its health-related search results.

In announcing the move, it didn't mention cyberchondria or the myriad ways a search can lead us to the wrong conclusion about our condition. Google product manager Prem Ramaswami did write in the company blog that "you should find the health information you need more quickly and easily."

Over the next few days, Google says it will roll out its new-look search result: When you look up a symptom or disease, you'll see an expanded information box.

Ramaswami writes:

"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. For some conditions you'll also see high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators."

He writes that the information was compiled, curated and reviewed by a team of doctors, and checked by doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic for accuracy.

Google will begin with 400 medical conditions, like pink eye, diabetes, and measles, according to MedCity News. These new results will be rolled out over the next three days.

Better information

Google says the search results should not be mistaken as medical advice, and shouldn't replace a visit to your doctor.

Rather, Ramaswami writes, "we hope this can empower you in your health decisions by helping you learn more about common conditions."

What's your experience searching online for health information? We want to hear about it. And if you find yourself Googling for medical information in the next couple of days, let us know how it goes! Do these information boxes arm you with better information? Tell us about it in the comments section below, or e-mail us at Impatient@scpr.org.

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