Pretty much anyone with an internet connection and an immune system has given in at least once to the temptation and anxiety that comes with being sick in the 21st century, misdiagnosing themselves after turning to Dr. Search Engine in a panic — which of course, only results in even more panic and heightened anxiety. But Google symptom search could change all that: This new feature from the internet giant is tackling the plethora of inaccurate search results by changing exactly what shows up for its medical searches, with the end goal of helping users get the most accurate information they can.
Google symptom search is being rolled out on the Google app for iOS and Android this week. Designed to bring up better information, the feature is the result of a collaboration between Google and a team of doctors at Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic — and it might just be a game changer in how we approach illnesses and other conditions. Hopefully it will help us get to the root of the problem more quickly, but without falling into the trap of self-diagnosis (because no matter how good the internet is, talking to an actual doctor is usually your best bet).
The next time you're in the app and you search for something like, "weird rash on my foot" or "persistent headache," you'll be able to select a "digital card" — which is basically a box containing a description of the most likely health problem related to your search — right above the original search box, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Before symptom search, you really had to know the exact name of what you were looking for to find the best health information,” said Veronica Pinchin, a product manager on Google’s search team in a post on Google's blog. “It was difficult to stumble on the right condition.” She continued:
After 20 minutes digging through health forums, chances are you're overwhelmed by all the complicated medical terms and breaking out in a sweat... health content on the web can be difficult to navigate, and tends to lead people from mild symptoms to scary and unlikely conditions, which can cause unnecessary anxiety and stress.
And because roughly one percent of Google's searches are symptom-related, according to Pinchin, it was important to the company that people are met with useful information.
At the moment Google Symptom Search is only available in the United States through the Google app, but Pinchin says Google plans on expanding this symptom search function to other countries and languages, and eventually to desktops.It's also worth noting that beneath these new symptom cards, the original search results (including all the wacky ones which often have no relation to your problem) will still be displayed, so it's up to users to separate the advice from these new cards from the stuff in the regular results. Either way, although self-diagnosis isn't recommended in replacement of seeing a doctor, the internet often provides a useful place to start; indeed, for many people around the world who are without access to affordable health care, what you can learn from the internet can be crucial.
Still, though: Don't let yourself fall into the black hole that is internet health advice. Sometimes a headache is just a headache.