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Google adds new dimension to online health information searches

New search feature will suggest related conditions when people search on Google for symptoms

Google online health information search

In a move that could either give patients faster access to the right information or be the precursor to a new outbreak of 'cybercondria', Google is poised to change the way online health searches are carried out.

Under company plans people who search for a symptom or set of symptoms could be presented with a list of “possibly related health conditions” with which to refine their search.

Announcing the move Google used the example of a search for “abdominal pain on my right side”, which would show such related searches as appendicitis, ovarian cyst or irritable bowel.

Google's chief health strategist Roni Zeiger wrote: “ We hope this feature makes it easier and faster to research symptoms and related health conditions on Google. We're humbled by the number of people who turn to Google with such important questions, and we are working especially hard to make our search results even more useful for health searches.”

The related conditions will be generated by Google's algorithms that will “analyse data from pages across the web and surface the health conditions that appear to be related to your search”, Zeiger said.

Suggested health conditions won't always appear after search queries but, Google said, will “often” be shown.

The implications for pharma of Google's new way of searching for health information remain to be seen.

Google could seek to repeat the form of its 2010 deal with the US National Institutes of Health and prioritise government-funded information, or it could be pharma's cue to make sure it properly addresses the search engine optimisation of its own content.

Whatever the outcome when the change goes live, it's another sign that Google's interest in health hasn't waned following the closure last month of its online patient record system Google Health, after it failed to catch on.

There's more on Google's focus on health in the video below, where chairman Eric Schmidt discusses how his company can make a difference in healthcare through 'search analysis trending' to spot, for example, potential pandemic outbreaks of flu.

16th February 2012

From: Marketing

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