Google Health Searches Now Include 900 Medical Conditions

Google has expanded its health search feature to include about 900 different medical conditions.

Larry Loeb, Blogger, Informationweek

September 5, 2015

3 Min Read
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It's no secret that Google has been turning its attention to health topics lately. In February, the search engine giant said it would be upping its game on health topics when they are searched.

In February, here's how Google described what information it wanted it search engine to deliver to users:

"We'll show you typical symptoms and treatments, as well as details on how common the condition is -- whether it's critical, if it's contagious, what ages it affects, and more. For some conditions you'll also see high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators."

Extending the effort, Google announced this week that the number of search terms it will treat as medical conditions was doubled, to 900 or so. As an example of the expanded search terms, the company used this example, "We're making sure to include neglected tropical diseases, a set of infections that affect over 1.5 billion people including 500 million children in poorer regions."

However, this feature remains in US English only right now, but Google says it will be changing that in the future.

There is also a button to allow downloading of all this information as a PDF file.

So, how does this work?

When you're on a desktop, and you put in a query about a medical condition, not only do relevant search hits about it show on the left side of the screen. There is also a Google-generated description of the condition on the right side. It includes a brief overview, including how long the malady lasts, whether it's treatable, and how easily it spreads. It also provides information on common the condition is in the US.

A search on the Google app for a condition might show the box over the entire display screen, however.

To represent how common a condition is, Google uses similar criteria as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For example, a "very rare" condition is one with fewer than 20,000 cases in a given year in the US. Google also provides the typical ages of people with this condition, and which gender is more often affected by the condition will also show up.

How was this information generated?

[Read about Google's new company logo.]

Google says, "We worked with a team of medical doctors (led by our own Dr. Kapil Parakh, M.D., MPH, Ph.D.) to carefully compile, curate, and review this information. All of the gathered facts represent real-life clinical knowledge from these doctors and high-quality medical sources across the web, and the information has been checked by medical doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic for accuracy."

So that you remember that the information is from Google, and not an actual doctor, the company prominently notes: "That doesn't mean these search results are intended as medical advice. We know that cases can vary in severity from person to person, and that there are bound to be exceptions. What we present is intended for informational purposes only -- and you should always consult a healthcare professional if you have a medical concern."

Trust us, we're a Google doctor.

About the Author(s)

Larry Loeb

Blogger, Informationweek

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange. His first Mac had 128 KB of memory, which was a big step up from his first 1130, which had 4 KB, as did his first 1401. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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