In terms of valuable and trustworthy medical information, Google has never been at the top of the list — even though about 5% of all Google searches are related to health concerns, according to USA Today.
Anyone who has used the WebMD symptom calculator knows the horror of seeing a list of possible illnesses — usually ranging from a common cold to untreatable cancer. It isn’t hard to find a plethora of blog posts explaining home remedies and amazing “cures” for things like the stomach flu, pneumonia, and food poisoning.
But Google has been very aware of this problem for some time, and according to a recent announcement on February 10, the search engine corporation is about to make a major change in regards to its medical validity.
Something called the Google Knowledge Graph is — hopefully — going to provide users with better information every time they search for answers to medical questions.
In addition to providing a list of website results for a search, the LA Times explains that the Knowledge Graph will appear on the top of the results page, and will provide images and text information, including common symptoms and treatments, how contagious the condition is, and how common the condition is.
To use an example provided by USA Today,, when a user searches the term “rabies,” the Knowledge Graph shows “a drawing of a racoon next to an arm with a bite, followed by comments such as ‘Very rare’ and ‘Medically treatable by a doctor or professional.’”
Google currently has a Knowledge Graph sidebar created for about 400 medical conditions — all with facts that have been checked and approved by a panel of physicians (about 11 per panel, on average). According to an interview with USA Today, the company plans on expanding its medical database to include hundreds of conditions.
It’s very likely that the Knowledge Graph will make Google a more trustworthy source for medical information — but mostly because it can’t get much worse. The real question is whether this development will ameliorate crowded emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, or whether it will be as ineffective and anxiety-producing as WebMD.