Business Technology

Saturday 24 February 2018

Dr Google will see you now: New health symptom checker takes on GPs


Madhumita Murgia

If you wake up feeling a bit ill, the first place you’re going to turn to isn’t your local GP clinic – it’s probably Google.

You’re not alone: roughly 1pc of all Google searches – that’s millions of them every day – are related to medical symptoms. Usually, the range of results is enough to turn the most rational human into a raging hypochondriac, but Google has announced a new health symptom checker that claims it gives you medically accurate information.

For instance, if you search Google for “headache on one side,” it shows you a list of possible conditions such as “migraine,” “tension headache,” “sinusitis,” and “common cold”. It will also give you some home treatment options and tell you if you should see a doctor.

The results will show up as a summary at the top of Google so you don’t have to crawl through multiple blogs and sites and piece it together, and will use “high-quality medical information we’ve collected from doctors,” said Veronica Pinchin, a product manager at Google.

“We worked with a team of medical doctors… and experts at Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic evaluated related conditions for a representative sample of searches to help improve the lists we show.”

Since Google uses machine learning to improve voice searches on Google’s mobile app, this means it could learn about you over time. For instance, what symptoms are you checking for regularly and do they mean something important when analysed together?

It would also become more accurate based on what it already knows about you, such as your location (you should probably see your doctor if you’ve got flu-like symptoms after a visit to Brazil, say).

Of course, this doesn’t actually mean Google will replace your doctor. It just means the symptom checker is slightly more intelligent than a random collection of potential diagnoses, and can point you to a doctor when required.

Currently the feature is only available in the US via mobile search, but Google said it plans to extend it to other countries and in other languages over time.

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