The medical information is being added to the company’s Knowledge Graph, which underpins Google’s instant search results and powers Google’s Now personal assistant and app. It will allow health questions to be answered directly, without a user having to click.
Google already does this with dictionary definitions, schedules for big sporting events and Wikipedia extracts for famous people. Knowledge Graph is essentially a built-in encyclopaedia, which pulls in facts, data and illustrations from various sources.
One in 20 searches on Google are health-related, according to the company. “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,” said PremRamaswami, a product manager for Google’s search.
The addition of medical information is part of Google’s push into health, which includes the company’s health and fitness data service and apps Google Fit. But while Google’s Knowledge Graph attempts to put useful, relevant information at the top of generic searches, the accuracy of medical information is critical.
Google has partnered with doctors from the non-profit Mayo Clinic to curate and check the relevant facts and health data that has been added to the database for accuracy. On average, each piece of medical information presented by Google will have been checked by over 11 different physicians.
Medical advice is strictly regulated in the US. The 23andMe genotyping project, part-funded by Google, was ordered to stop giving out health information on genetic diseases by the US Food and Drug Administration in November 2013.
The new information will be integrated into Google’s US search and Google apps over the next three days, starting with 400 medical conditions ranging from diabetes to measles, which will represent about 10% of all health searches made via Google. The service will be expanded beyond the US at a later date.
Google claims that its health information presented in the new feature is at least accurate and it will not be directly monetised. It is possible Google could partner with the NHS for a launch in the UK at a later date.