Google Health Cards: the first test drive

google-health-cards

Google’s new health cards became active in Australia just a few hours ago, so I figured I’d be first to give them a test run.

Health cards are Google’s attempt to give the lay public sensible and evidence-based results on searches for medical conditions.

The ‘cards’ appear as a stand-alone box to the right of the usual Google search results, and contain a few sentences and a picture.

For example, when I type in ‘cold’, the usual, familiar results appear – first is my local weather (despite today being decidedly warm!) followed by the hits from more than a billion search results.

But in addition, a new box automatically appears, labelled ‘Common cold’. It contains an artist’s impression of nose-blowing (happily, a ‘before’ image with the tissue still clean) and three clickable sections: About; Symptoms; and Treatments.

Each section typically contains a couple of brief statements and some dot points. The health information is general, but accurate, having been developed in conjunction with doctors from the Mayo clinic. No unpleasant surprises suggesting your cold might require antibiotics.

There are no links to expanded information, so presumably Google expects you to use their normal search engine for extra detail.

google-health-card2

The content is written for a US audience, with an inconsistent smattering of Australian spelling; the brain ‘tumor’ title page has ‘tumour’ written throughout the text. Podiatrists are ‘chiropodists’ and dietitians ‘nutritionists’.

Of more concern is that GPs are mysteriously referred to as ‘Primary Care Providers (PCPs)’, so those with a common cold are asked to consult either a paediatrician (why on earth?) or a PCP. A choice between the unsuitable and the unfathomable.

But overall, I like this initiative. Google tells us that one in 20 of its searches involve health-related terms, so these health cards make for a pretty sensible first search hit. They certainly contain far more accurate and reliable information than many other hits; just try typing in ‘lyme disease’.

The biggest drawback I could see initially is that the boxes are hard to conjure up, as it often requires typing in the exact term the authors were thinking of. For example, while ‘asthma’ and ‘appendicitis’ bring up appropriate health cards, nothing appears after typing ‘asthma diagnosis’ or ‘appendix pain’.

Symptoms such as wheeze, rash, and fever also draw blanks, but that is probably a good thing.  Diagnoses are best made by your doctor—or perhaps by your PCP, once you have Googled the acronym to find one.

But I’m nit-picking when my main complaint about a resource that didn’t exist yesterday is that it needs expansion. They have launched with only 900 health cards, and that’s a great start. Each box has a ‘feedback’ link to improve the system, so it will only get better over time.

My first feedback suggestion will be to use consistent Australian terminology and spelling.

I’ll probably wait for Google’s response before pushing for health cards on ‘croc bite’ and ‘BBQ burn’.

This article was first published in Medical Observer, 2 Feb 2017

About Dr Justin Coleman

Justin is a GP working in Aboriginal health in Brisbane, Australia. He is also a medical writer, editor and blogger. Further details at https://drjustincoleman.com/
This entry was posted in medical writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Google Health Cards: the first test drive

  1. Gaby Fairfield says:

    I am a sceptic, next step with Google, people will go to google to have a 5min consult with Google doctor? BB??

  2. David Adam says:

    I think the suggestion to see a paediatrician comes from the US approach, where paediatricians do a large amount of primary care.

    • You’re right, David. The health cards were released in the US last year, but seem to have been partly modified for today’s Australian release…hence some of the non-US spelling.
      I’d love to have a crack at a proper Aussie edit, to fix a few of the small inconsistencies.
      I’ll await your call, Google. No doubt you already know my number.

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