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Google Plays Doctor with Improved Symptom Search

Anyone who’s ever searched for symptoms online will tell you how quickly a simple headache can sound a lot worse. Google hopes to cut through some of the confusion by letting users search for their symptoms right in the search engine’s app and get simple, no-nonsense answers about diagnoses and treatments. While it’s not going to replace an actual trip to the doctor, it can probably solve simplest ailments, and could be a good place to start for anything more serious than that.

Google covered the update on its official blog, and promised that it will start rolling out for mobile devices over the next few days. (If I had to hazard a guess, I’d assume that stock Android would get it first, followed by modified Android, followed by iOS, but give it a week or two, and it’ll probably be everywhere.) There’s no special instructions to follow: Just search your symptoms and Google will do the rest.

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Rather than bringing you to thousands of different web pages, Google will display results right on top of the search, as it does if you try to find movie showtimes or locations. To bring users the most relevant information, Google collaborated with a team of medical doctors, including experts from the Harvard Medical School (not as impressive as Johns Hopkins, but it’ll do) and the Mayo Clinic.

As a few examples, Google suggested that you can type “headache on one side,” and immediately get information about what causes headaches, in addition to specific information about migraines, tension headaches, sinusitis and so forth. “Swollen joins” brings up arthritis, “skin rash” brings up contact dermatitis, and so forth. The listings also suggest how common or rare an ailment is, as well as list potential causes and treatments.

While the functionality is very simple and not very comprehensive, it’s a far less confusing than a lot of self-diagnosis websites that leave users feeling convinced that they’re about to die from a stuffy nose. As the blog post points out, it’s probably also a good starting point for “symptoms you’re too embarrassed to run by your roommate.” (Spoiler alert: If you're really concerned, you should see a doctor.)