Apps I Live By

Move Over WebMD, It's Google's Turn To Play Doctor

Have you ever wondered if your pounding headache is a result of your bad sitting posture…or something more? What about your shapeless stools and killer farts? Indigestion or perhaps something more sinister?

You go onto the Internet, enter the symptoms and click on the links which have domain names with ‘legit’-sounding keywords like “MD”, “Doctor”, “Medicine”, and hope for the best.

More often than not, most of us would be more drawn to the worst possible outcome, as compared to those advising us to self-medicate with off-the-counter medicine, or worse, to simply “rest it out”. Perhaps the (usually) overreaction helps us to mentally prepare ourselves for the worst; in that case, any other outcome would be good news, right? Us having played witness to serious illnesses happening to people around us, and the “probability becoming possibility” scenario is also very real.

The more you read the articles and the deeper you go into your self-diagnosis, the more you feel your head getting heavier and your breaths getting increasingly laboured – it’s happening as the minutes pass, you tell yourself.

To confirm your now-belief, you head down to the nearest doctor (“Or will a specialist be a better option?”) and woefully await the diagnosis.

And then it happens. “It’s a common case of stress-induced tension headache. Nothing to worry, just take some Panadol and rest. Do you need MC?”

Move Over WebMD, Google Wants To Play Doctor

With around 1% (which translates to millions) of all Google searches being symptom-related, and the increasing access to knowledge and ‘knowledge’ the internet has brought about, the upcoming update on the Google app seeks to “help you to 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 way that the update will work is that when you enter your symptom like “loose stools”, the app will show you a list of related conditions, like “indigestion” or “food poisoning”. An overview description of a probable ailment for more singular symptoms like “headache” will also be given alongside self-treatment options and what requires medical attention.

googlemd
Image Credit: Google

“High-Quality Medical Information Collection”

To address the concerns that the information available online might not be from legitimate (i.e. actual doctors) sources, Google has stated in its blog post that the list of symptoms created from looking for health conditions mentioned in web results was checked against “high-quality medical information collection from doctors for (our) Knowledge Graph”.

The Knowledge Graph, basically, is created by Google to organise its plethora of information, people and websites in a systematic way “to create interconnected search results that are more accurate and relevant”. This also means that a simple search of the term “headache” could bring up almost every condition that you might be suffering, even if it doesn’t come to mind at first.

The Google team was also said to have “worked with a team of medical doctors to carefully review the individual symptom information, and experts at Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic evaluated related conditions for a representative sample of searches to help improve the lists”, so users can rest assure that the information they’re getting will be closer to reality than the common hypochondriac-level exaggeration.

However, the team still emphasises the importance of consulting a medical professional for advice, since the update would be more appropriate for “informational purposes”.

When Can We Start?

As most updates, it would first be available in English in the United States, but the team hopes to cover more symptoms and extend this service to other languages and more countries soon.

Personally, I can’t wait to try out the new update and if it will alleviate my hypochondriac tendencies. But first, let me see what this incessant headache could possibly entail…

 

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