Prompted by a sudden surge in searches involving Legionnaires' disease earlier this summer, Google has decided to update the manner in which it delivers health-related information in Google Search.
Over the next few weeks, Google will add detailed information, including symptoms, treatments and prevalence, on more than 900 health conditions. The company will also add what it described as visual design improvements to help people find and access relevant information more quickly.
For example, people searching for "pink eye symptoms" will be taken straight to a symptoms tab for that particular disease, Google Product Manager Prem Ramaswamy said in a blog post Thursday.
Google will also start providing a "download pdf" link so people can print out the information on the symptoms and bring it to their doctor. According to Ramaswamy, doctors have been asking Google to provide such a capability for some time.
As part of the update, Google will also provide detailed information on more than a dozen neglected tropical diseases affecting people in poorer regions of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes neglected tropical diseases as a set of diseases endemic in 149 countries and affecting some 1.4 billion people. The WHO has prioritized 17 neglected tropical diseases for urgent attention, including Chagas disease, leprosy, guinea worm disease and rabies.
Google has already started updating its information on some of these diseases, according to Ramaswamy. For instance, Dengue fever has already been included in the list of diseases on which Google provides detailed curated information. The company is working on added similar information on other neglected diseases such as Chikungunya and Leishmaniasis, Ramaswamy said. "Today the feature is still only in U.S. English, but we plan to expand it to more languages and regions," he said.
Google first launched its health conditions feature in search in February. At that time, the company said it would provide what it described as high-quality medical facts on more than 400 common health conditions.
Google noted that it would work with a team of medical doctors from inside Google and from institutions such as the Mayo Clinic to compile, vet and present disease information. Since February, the company has been presenting information on specific diseases in a separate information panel that it calls Knowledge Graph on its search results page. Google uses Knowledge Graph to present enhanced search results when users research certain topics.
Google has been using the Knowledge Graph to present information about specific diseases, the typical symptoms associated with the disease and the available treatment options. Eleven medical doctors on average review the information pertaining to a specific disease before it is presented via the Knowledge Graph, according to the company.
The disease data that Google serves up represents the real-life clinical knowledge of doctors, the company claims. At the same time, it has been careful to position the data as purely informational in nature and insists that people should seek proper medical advice as needed.
Google says that 1 in 20 of all searches that people do on Google are health-related.