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Google recently launched a new feature called symptom search on its mobile site as well as its iOS and Android apps. This feature allows a user to key in a symptom he or she is experiencing and then provides a list of “related conditions” without any further clicking or page redirection. Users are also given a general description of their possible ailments, options for self-treatment, and what might warrant a doctor’s visit.

One in 20 Google searches is health related, and, of those, one in five is symptom related, according to USA Today. If you decide to hop on Google and search the symptoms “headache and nausea,” the new condition-card feature will suggest that you may have a migraine, the flu or stomach flu, or a tension headache, or you may be suffering from a brain aneurysm. While the first or second suggestion is most likely the culprit, the hypochondriacs or cyberchondriacs who make up 20% of the general population are scheduling appointments with neurosurgeons. Still, the new Google symptom search presents a few positive points.

  • It provides quality information. Patients are getting linked to information from reliable sites, such as WebMD and Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic worked hand in hand with Google to make sure the information provided to users was accurate and reliable.
  • And it avoids poor sources. This feature could help steer patients away from less-vetted sites. The technology is a simple recoding of Google’s current knowledge graph strategy. The same technology that brings up Wikipedia information about a celebrity or a sports team is the technology that will be bringing conditions, symptoms, treatments, and other health-related information to our fingertips.
  • It’s a conversation starter. Another advantage of this tool is its ability to open up a door for patient-doctor discussions that may not have happened before. With access to reliable health information now made simpler by Google, patients can learn on their own time what might be happening to them and what options are available.

Many healthcare professionals might be leery of patients who rely too heavily on Dr. Google, but on the flip side, knowledge, when it comes from the right place, can be power. Informed patients may be better suited to have productive conversations about conditions and treatment options when they see their healthcare providers. So while adding Dr. Google to your healthcare regimen will never replace your primary care physician, the reliability and usefulness of this tool will only help to strengthen a patient’s curiosity and knowledge.

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