Self-diagnosis on the Internet has always been a dicey proposition. Type in a set of symptoms and the results are mostly of two varieties: not very helpful, or “You’re gonna die!”
Now Google wants to do a better job of helping you diagnose yourself. The engineers behind the search engine hope that a new algorithm will give people more nuanced and realistic answers, and show them where to find help instead of hysteria.
Developed with medical experts at Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic, Google had a team of doctors evaluate medical conditions based on a representative sample of searches. Type in symptoms and the search engine will offer up a list of possible causes and, for each one, a suggested course of action — a quick fix, a trip to the doctor, or both.
Google will roll out this new technology in the US within the next week. Later, the search engine also wants to find out if its new algorithm is working.
Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, who has conducted research on people using web searches for health information, but was not involved in the Google effort, said he hopes it will allow people to make more sense out of their online research.
“These searches are happening all the time, but it’s hard to put together the information you get. The results can be somewhat random,” said Mehrotra, an associate professor in the department of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. “This new approach is a way to group that data in a way that is more helpful to patients.”
Users will also have a chance to give Google feedback on their experience with the new health search.