Dr. Google – Or at Least a WebMD Replacement

Posted on June 21, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

We’ve all heard the talk about Dr. Google and how it’s the first place many of us reach out to with are various medical issues. Well, Dr. Google (my term, not there’s) is stepping up their game even more with their most recent announcement. Here’s an excerpt of the changes to a Google search for symptoms:

So starting in the coming days, when you ask Google about symptoms like “headache on one side,” we’ll show you a list of related conditions (“headache,” “migraine,” “tension headache,” “cluster headache,” “sinusitis,” and “common cold”). For individual symptoms like “headache,” we’ll also give you an overview description along with information on self-treatment options and what might warrant a doctor’s visit. By doing this, our goal is to help you to navigate and explore health conditions related to your symptoms, and quickly get to the point where you can do more in-depth research on the web or talk to a health professional.

Lest you think this is just Google, they have worked with some actual doctors on their results:

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.

Although, Google did follow that up with a big disclaimer that they’re just a source of information and that it shouldn’t replace consulting a doctor for medical advice. Yeah, Google’s not quite ready to take on the liability of actually giving medical advice. So, take their results with that grain of salt.
Dr. Google
Of course, Google doesn’t have to worry about it. Millions already take their health-related search results with a grain of salt. I’d really say that this update is an algorithm tweak and an interface tweak more than it being a real change to the way Google does things.

If I’m WebMD, I’d be a bit worried by these tweaks by Google. Doesn’t what Google’s doing sound a lot like WebMD? However, I’m sure Google sends a ton of traffic WebMD’s way, so they won’t likely complain about things. At least not for now.

I’m sure most doctors’ reaction to this is likely covered by this coffee cup:
Dr Google - Google Search Replacement for Medical Degree
In response to this mug, e-Patient Dave provides an alternate and important perspective on the balance between an informed patient versus an arrogant, disrespectful patient. Like most things in life, it’s what you do with the information or tool that matters. It can be used for good or bad depending on how you approach it.

All of this said, the patient is becoming more empowered every day. Consumer driven healthcare is here to stay and Dr. Google is going to be one important tool in that toolbox for many patients.