The tech giant has announced it is adding medical information to its Knowledge Graph, so health-related queries will be answered directly.
Knowledge Graph is essentially a built-in encyclopedia which powers instant search results on Google, as well as the company’s Now personal assistant and app. Health information is the latest section of results that will be displayed instantly, joining dictionary definitions, sports fixtures and Wikipedia extracts for celebrities, writes Samuel Gibbs of The Guardian.
Google’s health strategy
Google claims that 5% of searches are health-related, and Prem Ramaswami, a product manager for Google’s search, said: “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.”
Instantly displaying health-related search results is part of the company’s plan to push into the health sector, which also includes its health and fitness data service and app known as Google Fit. Of course, the accuracy of medical information is far more important than the accuracy of a celebrity biography on Wikipedia, so Google has forged a partnership with the non-profit Mayo Clinic.
Potential regulatory issues
Each piece of medical information published by Knowledge Graph will have been verified by over 11 different doctors. Regulations on health advice are incredibly tight in the U.S., and Google will surely want to avoid the same problems that the 23andMe genotyping project suffered. The project, partly funded by Google, was ordered to stop giving out health information by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2013.
Google maintains that is does not intend for its results to be used for medical advice, but only for “informational purposes.” U.S. users will see health related queries begin to be answered instantly over the next 3 days, and Google plans to expand the service internationally in the future.
Online self-diagnosis has become a real issue, complicated by the fact that a lot of sites are not primarily interested in providing accurate information, but earning money through advertising revenues. Google’s Knowledge Graph has come in for criticism for stealing traffic from existing publishers, but in this case the company claims that it will at least be improving the accuracy of information, and that the information will not be directly monetized.