Google to Roll Out New Symptom Search Feature

Users who search Google for specific symptoms can get detailed information on associated diseases and health conditions.  

Google symptom search

Do you have a headache or a sore throat, and you're not quite sure what's causing it? Google may have an answer for you.

In the next few days, the company will roll out a new feature in Search that will let users ask Google about specific symptoms they might be experiencing or want to know more about, and get detailed information on related conditions and potential causes for them.

For instance, if a user searches for "headache on one side," Google will serve up a list of related conditions such as "migraine," "sinusitis" and "cluster headache." For individual symptoms, like "headache" or "earache," Google will also offer information on potential self-treatment options and whether the symptoms, as described by the user, merit a visit to the doctor, Veronica Pinchin, Google product manager for Search, wrote in a blog post.

The goal is to give users enough information so they can conduct more informed research on their symptoms and quickly decide whether a visit to a health care professional is necessary, Pinchin said.

The new feature offers a slightly new spin on the health-related information that users can already pull up via Google Search. As a result of a Search feature update announced last year, users can get curated medical information on hundreds of common and uncommon diseases and ailments. By entering the name for a particular disease, users can get information on symptoms, the severity of the symptoms, disease causes, whether it is contagious, how it spreads, how long it lasts and how a medical professional would typically diagnose the disease.

Google serves up the information in Knowledge Graphs, which are basically information cards that the company uses to present enhanced search results. Often the information contains illustrations by professional medical illustrators.

According to Google, the information contained in each Knowledge Card associated with an ailment, represents the collective wisdom of doctors and health care professionals, including those from institutions like the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School.

Google has claimed that 11 doctors, on average, have reviewed the content in each morsel of medical information made available to search users.

The new feature, announced this week lets users search health-related topics based on symptoms instead of by disease or ailment. According to Pinchin, when a user enters a symptom in Search, Google looks for health conditions that appear in previous search results, and compares and correlates that information with data in the Knowledge Graphs to provide relevant information associated with the symptom.

"We 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 we show," Pinchin said.

While Google has portrayed symptom search as a useful feature, the company has been careful to position it as something that users should use purely for informational purposes. The information that users get is based heavily on previous search results and only reflects what's already available on the Web. "You should always consult a doctor for medical advice," Pinchin noted.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.