New Google Algorithm Makes Symptom Search Results More Accurate

June 23rd 2016
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor

Google’s improved health symptom search feature may help patients avoid the hysteria of Internet-based self-diagnosing.

Google’s improved health symptom search feature may help patients avoid the hysteria of Internet-based self-diagnosing.

In collaboration with medical experts from Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic, the search engine giant has developed a new algorithm to give patients more realistic answers to their health questions.

“We worked with a team of medical doctors to carefully review the individual symptom information, and experts…evaluated related conditions for a representative sample of searches to help improve the lists we show,” Google wrote on its company blog.

When a patient asks Google about symptoms, the search results will usually include:

· An overview description

· Information on self-treatment

· A list of related conditions

“By doing this, our goal is to help you navigate and explore health conditions related to your symptoms, and quickly get to the point where you can do more in-depth research on the Web or talk to a health professional,” the company wrote.

Roughly 1% of total Google searches are symptom-related, which means the improvement could affect millions of users who turn to the search engine as their first point of contact regarding their health. More than one-third of US adults regularly use the Internet toself-diagnose, so giving patients greater access to accurate information about their symptoms may empower them to play an enhanced role in their own care.

Earlier this year, Google released arelated medications feature, so whenever an individual uses the search engine to investigate a particular drug, related medications now appear directly below the standard medical knowledge panel.

Although these features are certainly more helpful than harmful, retail clinicians should make sure to remind their patients that Internet searchesshouldn’t replacehealth care professionals, who still play a critical role in helping patients sort through and comprehend the wealth of information they find online.

Patients with acute symptoms, such as a headache or unexplained rash, may be most likely to use this feature to try and find a quick fix.

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