Internet

Google plays doctor with answers to your health questions

As more people rely on the Web for health information, the company's search results will now start to display greater details in response to your health-related queries.

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Google will now try to deliver specific details on health and medical issues. Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Have a question about a specific medical condition? You may now be able to find the answers you seek via Google.

Obivously, you've always been able to search for health and medical information at Google. But now the search giant will start showing more "relevant medical facts" right off the bat, Google product manager Prem Ramaswami said in a blog post Tuesday. The information appears in the Knowledge Graph side panel alongside Google's regular search results and allows you to drill down to get specific information on symptoms, treatments and other facts about that condition you're fretting about.

Providing more revelant and detailed medical facts is important as Google says that 1 in 20 of its searches are now geared toward health-related information. But finding accurate health information on the Web can be challenging. How do you know if the information you find is correct? Google said that it worked with a team of doctors to compile all the information offered and reviewed it with doctors at the company as well as the famed Mayo Clinic for accuracy.

Displayed through Google's Knowledge Graph panel, the information is intended to provide basic data more easily and quickly than you could find by scouring through all the individual search results. The Knowledge Graph attempts to be smarter than your average search result by connecting the object of your search with a real-world item. By doing so, it can collate and display the available information on that topic.

"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," Ramaswami said. "For some conditions you'll also see high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators. Once you get this basic info from Google, you should find it easier to do more research on other sites around the web, or know what questions to ask your doctor."

As one example, I asked Google "What are measles?" In return, the Knowledge Graph provided basic facts, such as how measles are treated and how they spread. It showed me a list of symptoms and it suggested potential treatments. The Knowledge Graph also offered a link to the Mayo Clinic's website where I could investigate the ailment in even greater detail.

Of course, you don't want to rely on Google as your doctor. As Ramaswami cautioned, the data that Google shows you is for information only. You still should always consult with a physician if you have any serious questions or concerns about a medical ailment. But Google may be a good place to start if you simply have basic questions.

The medical information is available both at Google's standard website and through its mobile app. The new data will roll out over the next few days and just in the US in English for now. Over the longer term, the company intends to launch the feature to other parts of the world and incorporate even more medical conditions.