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Google 'talk with a doctor now' video chat service may give telemedicine industry a boost

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Google wants a piece of the growing telemedicine pie.

Developer Jason Houle found a new feature on his Android device that allows some users to gain access to a doctor via video chat. Houle typed a query for "knee pain" and discovered an interesting blue video icon with the words "Talk with a doctor now." Clicking on the information icon next to the video icon, Houle found out that Google has rolled out a "limited trial" that lets users conduct online visits with physicians. Houle posted a screenshot of the new feature on Reddit on Friday.

"Based on your search query, we think you are trying to understand a medical condition," Google tells Houle. "Here you can find health care providers who you can visit with over video chat."

In a separate report, Engadget confirms that Google is testing a new Helpouts-style feature that lets users conduct video chats with doctors in place of self-diagnosing their medical conditions based on symptoms they see on the Internet. While on trial, Google will cover the costs of all online appointments, although it is not clear if the company will also pay for user expenses once the feature begins rolling out officially.

Helpouts is a video-based service that lets experts chat with other people to provide guidance on all sorts of things, ranging from parenting advice to workout tips and instructions for putting on red lipstick. But Google has bigger plans for Helpouts, which it launched November last year. The video service is fully HIPAA-compliant, which means doctors and health care practitioners are ensured that the security of patient information is not compromised.

Google has already partnered with medical workers through the One Medical network to provide medical sessions over Helpouts for $0 to $60 per session. If Google is incorporating the feature in its searches, it's likely that the company has brought on more medical practitioners to provide virtual appointments.

Google has yet to provide details about the new service but has sent the following statement to Gizmodo confirming that it is indeed testing video-based medical consultations.

"When you're searching for basic health information - from conditions like insomnia or food poisoning - our goal is provide you with the most helpful information available," says Google. "We're trying this new feature to see if it's useful to people."

Tom Lee, CEO of the One Medical network that began offering online video sessions on Helpouts upon launch, said at that time that telemedicine is one way for patients to cut down on health care costs.

"Helpouts will allow our patients to get high-quality affordable care," he said. "The system is so wasteful."

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