Google, the world's most used search engine, is partnering with two of the world's leading health organizations to take the confusion out of symptom searching.
"We worked with a team of medical doctors to carefully review the individual symptom information, and experts at Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic evaluated related conditions for a representative sample of searches to help improve the lists we show," Veronica Pinchin, a product manager on Google's search team, writes in a blog post introducing Google's new offering.
"Before symptom search, you really had to know the exact name of what you were looking for to find the best health information," Pinchin adds. "It was difficult to stumble on the right condition. Health content on the web can be difficult to navigate, and tends to lead people from mild symptoms to scary and unlikely conditions, which can cause unnecessary anxiety and stress."
About 1 percent of Google's search queries worldwide are related to medical symptoms. That seems small, but it translates into millions of searches, she notes.
In consultation with Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic, Google has built millions of digital cards for millions of searches.
"Because this is an algorithm, it isn't perfect," Pinchin writes. "But we're going to expand and improve it over time."
Symptom search is currently available only in the U.S. – and only in English – in Google iOS and Android apps, and in Google.com search results on mobile phones and tablets.
But Google plans to make searches available via desktop browsers and to international markets in more languages, but the company has not indicated when.
In her blog, Pinchin offers some cautionary words: "Symptom search (like all medical information on Google) is intended for informational purposes only, and you should always consult a doctor for medical advice."
Google has been iterating its symptom search capabilities for years: Be sure to read this MobiHealthNews run-down of symptom search changes from the company over the years.