Google search now provides access to basic healthcare information in India

Google’s latest move in India may help increase access to healthcare information among millions of people. The company added healthcare information to its knowledge graph in the U.S. last year, to help people easily find quick information in response to symptoms or concerns via its search engine, and now the feature is headed east to India.

The company, which operates India’s two most visited websites according to Alexa, will now serve users of Google’s main search engine (on all platforms) and its search apps for iOS and Android with data on over 400 health conditions in English and Hindi when they search for an illness or symptom.

“Next time you ask Google about common health conditions, we’ll show you information cards with typical symptoms, as well as details on how common the condition is — whether it’s critical, if it’s contagious, what ages it affects, and more,” the company explained in a statement.

The cards include images and can be downloaded as PDFs who can easily be passed on to someone else, perhaps a family member or friend. Google said that it will serve ‘lite’ versions of the cards if a user is on a limited internet connection, as can happen in places like India.
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Why is Google doing this?

With one in twenty searches health-related, the search giant is keen to help users gain greater access to information — although it cautions that the “search results are not intended as medical advice.”

The feature is already live in the U.S. — where Google worked with the Mayo Clinic to fact check its answers — and Brazil as of a few weeks. In India, Google collaborated with Apollo Hospitals and Columbia Asia Hospitals on the content, while it visited a clinic in Ballabgarh — just under 40 km from Delhi — last year to learn more about how it could help grassroots healthcare professionals.


An image take from the Google team visiting the Ballabgarh clinic underlines the lack of information available to healthcare professionals in India

Google’s move is in line with a growing number of startups dedicated to democratizing healthcare in India, where it is claimed as many as 97 percent of people do not have access to basic surgical coverage. Search portal Practo landed a $90 million investment last year, including Google Capital, while its close rival Lybrate pulled in $10 million led by high-profile hedge fund Tiger Global.

Those two companies are focused on providing reliable information to users, who can also get more specialized feedback (and, if necessary, appointments) with qualified doctors. Google’s India health push doesn’t go that far, but, with its visibility, even a seemingly small move could provide better access to information and encourage people in India to take a keener interest in their health.

Indeed, Prem Ramaswami — the U.S.-based senior product manager at Google in charge of the project worldwide — shared how his family in the U.S. and India had found information online that helped his father-in-law when he began experiencing chest pains last month.

“Health is a really important need for Indians and people globally. This is a very difficult space to navigate for consumers online, they have issues with trust and vocabulary. We wanted to create something simple and straight forward that gives this framework from which you can dive deeper to get more information,” Ramaswami further explained to us in an interview.

Beyond just helping consumers access information, the feature is designed to give healthcare professionals more data on the go. Ramaswami said it could also back up their case when convincing more skeptical patients to visit a doctor.

Google has made a concerted effort to provide more localized services in India this past year or so. Other initiatives include offline support for YouTube, better optimized mobile browsing, and Wi-Fi on India’s railway network.