Google Injects Health Facts Into Knowledge Graph

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Google’s semantic-search base, which it uses to supplement organic search results with summarized information typically foregrounded above the organic results, is getting an injection of medical facts to expand the utility of search services for users with health-related queries.

Google notes today that one in 20 searches performed using Google products is health-related.

In a blog announcing Knowledge Graph’s medical injection, Google product manager Prem Ramaswami says U.S. users will shortly start to see “relevant medical facts” alongside their search results when they ask about “common health conditions”.

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. 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.

Ramaswami notes Google worked with a “team of doctors” to “carefully compile, curate, and review this information”, adding: “All of the gathered facts represent real-life clinical knowledge from these doctors and high-quality medical sources across the web, and the information has been checked by medical doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic for accuracy.”

So, in other words, this is Mountain View’s professional effort to reverse the perception that Googling for health information is a minefield of misinformation.

With health set to be a hugely key battleground for future digital services — and especially via mobile — there is a clear incentive for Google to standardize some of the information it’s serving up here, to become exactly that: a respected standard. Rather than something doctors roll their eyes over when patients say ‘I read online…’.

(Of course Google is being careful to say it’s not dispensing actual medical advice here, and that this is purely for “informational purposes”, to help “empower” consumers. But the company is taking a very healthy interest in Life Sciences these days so the line between medical information and actionable advice looks set to be increasingly blurred by its own activities.)

Detailing “common health conditions” appears to be just the start. Google’s longer term mission sounds more akin to becoming a de facto global medical encyclopedia. So Google adopting a health-focused mantle also inevitably tramples on the turf of existing online health info portals like WebMD.

Ramaswami adds:

In the long run, not only do we plan to cover many more medical conditions, but we also want to extend this to other parts of the world. So the next time you need info on frostbite symptoms, or treatments for tennis elbow, or the basics on measles, the Google app will be a better place to start.