Google Expands Its Health Conditions Search Feature To Include 900 New Diseases


In February, Google launched a new health conditions search feature designed to cultivate patient-focused, clinically accurate information on diseases that users are searching for and then present that information prominently at the top of its search results page. Citing a telling statistic that one out of every 20 Google searches is for health-related information, the Google team partnered with the Mayo Clinic to create disease-specific information cards that it began presenting within its search results. At the time, and still to some extent today, “Dr. Google” had a terrible reputation with rank and file PCPs who had to handle the fallout from misinformed patients who read non-credible medical information they found on Google. The goal of the project was never to offer a comprehensive source of information on a disease, but rather to provide searchers with a primer on the disease they were interested in so that their research efforts on Google would start from a more informed place and end with a more accurate understanding of the condition.

Initially, the rollout was small in scope. Google focused on providing high-level information on the conditions that users were searching for, but an unlikely outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a rare form of pneumonia, in New York City this summer prompted the company to rethink the scope of its project. According to its announcement, the outbreak resulted in 1,000 percent spikes in searches for the disease. “People wanted to know what this disease is, why it’s spreading, and how to prevent it,” explains Google’s Product Manager Prem Ramaswami.

The outbreak caused Google to scramble to get Legionnaires’ disease added to the health conditions it supported, but in a long view, it also caused the search giant to question the overall strategy behind its health-related search results. Rather than limit its efforts to common conditions, Google has now decided to expand its health conditions search feature to offer information on over 900 diseases, more than doubling its original scope. The new update will not only add new content: Google has worked with the very doctors that were once disdainfully calling it “Dr. Google” to learn how it could better align its new feature with their goals. The most frequently requested feature by these doctors was a “Download PDF” feature that patients could use to print the information they had found and bring it with them to their doctor’s office. This feature, along with an overall expansion to the depth of disease-specific information offered, is all being rolled out with the newest update.

To get a first-hand look at Google’s new layout, search “Tonsillitis” and take a look at the results graph.

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