Whether it is a lingering headache, an 'unusual' rash or a fiercely rumbling stomach, with no real-life doctor in sight, there is always the temptation to consult the medical minefield of the internet. Despite being universally regarded as a terrible idea, with one in 20 searches being medical queries the latest update for the Google Search app hopes to transport us smoothly into the age of self-diagnosis when searching for specific symptoms.
After typing in a health concern – "headache on one side" is listed as an example - sickly Android and iOS searchers will henceforth be greeted with an overview of possible conditions. Following up with a particular condition - such as "headache," "migraine," "tension headache," "cluster headache," "sinusitis," or "common cold" - will then summon sliding cards with a general overview of the condition, self-treatment options and further recommendations.
The update, which goes live in the US "over the next few days," is designed to aid would-be-patients "navigate and explore health conditions related to [their] symptoms, and quickly get to the point where [they] can do more in-depth research on the web or talk to a health professional."
Detailed in a Google Search blog post, the changes are based on existing search data and is informed by Google's Knowledge Graph – a database which collates information from "high-quality" sources and translates them into a readable format. Google also notes that it consulted experts at the Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic to improve the service.
With symptom-related queries reportedly encompassing around one percent of all Google searches (i.e. millions of searches), the move is arguably a better alternative than sifting through questionable "I had that once" forum posts and 'net doctor' advice, Google has been quick to point out that the service is for informational purposes only and should not discourage people from seeking genuine medical care.
"Symptom search (like all medical information on Google) is intended for informational purposes only, and you should always consult a doctor for medical advice. We rely on search results, and we reflect what's on the web."
With plans to extend the service to reach an international audience, incorporate other languages and cover a wider array of symptoms, it surely will not be too long before 'Doctor Google' reaches the UK as well.