14 Feb 2012

Google 'improves' searching for health information

And I say 'improve' for obvious reasons....

Usually when you enter a list of symptoms into a Google search box you end up with a hundred different diagnoses before you even get to the second page of results. However people still seem to love doing exactly that, so much so in fact, that Google has introduced a new algorithm to make it even easier to 'self-diagnose'. Now when you enter a typical symptom as your search keyword(s), a list of 'possibly' related health conditions will appear at the top of the page. You can read more about it on their official search blog, where they claim they are "improving health searches because your health matters."

What is Google doing? Giving users what they want? Or doing more harm than good by 'helping' people put a label on their symptoms before they have even got as far as a Wikipedia entry (let alone a PubMed Health plain language consumer summary)?

It is exactly this kind of thing that gives the idea of using Google to look up health information a bad name. There is no mention anywhere of the need to critically appraise the information you find, no caveats about checking if the information comes from a reputable source or a commercial pharma company pushing a product. Google can be a great tool for finding health information, but consumers often put so much trust in the search engine that it is likely they will instantly attach their symptoms to one or more of the 'possibly' related conditions suggested by Google. Maybe Google should be taking a step back on this one instead of adding fuel to the cyberchondria fire.


  1. Googling your symptoms is the worst thing you could possibly do...I know from experience!

  2. Lol. I suppose it is understandable that Google may not share our view Ronan! However, at the same time I think with this latest development I wonder if they are trying to go even further regarding searching for health information, and aiming to encourage users to see Google as some sort of diagnostic tool? I hope this is not the start of a trend.