Google rolls out 'symptom search' to sharpen health information

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In efforts to improve the quality of search results for medical symptoms, Google partnered with Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic to refine search results, introducing a feature called "symptom search," reports The Wall Street Journal.

Symptom search seeks to provide quality information to those who turn to the internet to investigate their ailments and more accurately diagnose symptoms. When somebody uses the Google search app on an iPhone or Android phone to search for their symptoms, "digital cards" will appear at the top of the search results that describe a common health problem related to the search. 

If possible, the cards will mention if a user can self-treat the ailment or if the user should seek professional medical care.

"Before symptom search, you really had to know the exact name of what you were looking for to find the best health information," Veronica Pinchin, a product manager on Google's search team, told WSJ. "It was difficult to stumble on the right condition."

With the help of Boston-based HarvardMedicalSchool and Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, symptom search intends to provide that information and make it easier for patients to understand their symptoms.

Approximately 1 percent of Google searches globally are medical symptoms. While Google has developed cards for millions of searches, Ms. Pinchin told WSJ the project is a work in progress. "Because this is an algorithm, it isn't perfect," she said. "But we're going to expand and improve it over time."

Symptom search is available in English on Google iOS and Android apps and on mobile phones and tablets, but the company plans to eventually offer it on desktop browsers and international markets in more languages, according to the report.

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