Google Will Make Health Searches Less Scary With Fact-Checked Results

Dr. Google has always been a bit of a quack, doling out ever shoddier medical advice with every passing search result. Search the symptoms of a rash and somehow, someway, you will inevitably come to believe you have cancer.

Now, the search engine is trying to bring some much-needed validity to the world of health-related searches with a new database of 400 commonly searched medical conditions that have been extensively fact-checked by doctors at the Mayo Clinic. Google announced the news in a blog post Tuesday, saying that it will now surface these pre-vetted facts at the top of its search results, in hopes of getting people to the right information faster.

“Once you get this basic info from Google, you should find it easier to do more research on other sites around the web, or know what questions to ask your doctor,” Google product manager Prem Ramaswami wrote in the blog post.

As medical advice is increasingly going virtual, Google, of course, is not the only company that wants to provide the public with a good place to start. Other companies, like HealthTap, have created huge networks of doctors online, who are available to answer any question HealthTap users might have. Apple is also aggressively pursuing the health market with HealthKit, hoping to help people jumpstart their medical questions with data. But Google’s reach is undeniable, and according to the blog post, already one in 20 searches on Google is about a health-related issue. Having authoritative answers from real doctors appear at the top of those results could obviate other advice-giving platforms.

The results will include things like symptoms and treatments for a given condition, as well as information on how critical, contagious, and common it is. In an interview with USA Today, Google’s Vice President of Search, Amit Singhal said that an average of 11 doctors had vetted each fact for all 400 conditions, adding, “And this is just a start.”

Though these results are only currently available in the US, Google plans to expand its results to other conditions and to other countries, where Singhal says access to medical information online is often much more critical because access to healthcare is so limited. As he told USA Today, “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.”

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