The popularity of symptom-related searches is such that they comprise about 1 percent of Google searches. Many people turn to the internet for help in identifying illnesses and health conditions behind symptoms that they feel or experience.
Unfortunately, search results for medical symptoms are not often very useful and sometimes even frustrating for both health professionals and patients, so Google is introducing a new feature to help users find answers to symptom-related queries more easily.
On Monday, June 20, the Alphabet Inc.-owned company rolled out a new feature called "symptom search." Users in the U.S. searching for something like "skin rash," or "stomach ache" on Google's mobile site, as well as on search apps for iOS and Android, will see digital cards that can be swiped through below the search box.
These cards describe common health problems that are related to the search term used and may provide information on whether or not self-treatment for the condition is available. It may also mention if a related health problem is serious enough to require attention from a medical professional.
Google product manager Veronica Pinchin said that before symptom search was unveiled, users needed to know the exact name of what they were looking for so they could find the best health information, making it difficult to identify the right condition.
With the new feature, Google will put together a list of symptoms found in its search results and then check those symptoms against high quality medical information it has gathered from doctors for its Knowledge Graph.
To improve the lists the search engine will show, Google has also worked with medical doctors as well as experts from Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic.
Despite the new feature providing improved symptom-related search, Google said it is meant for informational purposes only. Users still need to consult their doctors for the best medical advice and care.
"We can't replace doctors who diagnose patients or come up with treatment plans, but we want to help improve the conversation," Pinchin said. "One of our big focuses here is making this all very accessible."
The new feature will initially be available only through Google's mobile site and apps and not through the search engine's desktop website. The symptom search will also be available only in English and for users in the U.S. albeit the company plans to expand its use to other languages and users in other countries in the future.