Google is rolling out new search tools aimed at your medical symptom queries. Search results will return a list of related conditions and, for some symptoms, a description along with self-treatment options and info to help you decide when it’s time to see a doctor (other than Dr. Google). They’ve also been working with Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic to improve the quality of the search results returned. You can read a full explanation of what they’re doing on the Google blog.
But what we’ll be most interested to see is whether these new tools help or exacerbate online compulsions that fuel health anxiety and OCD. What these new search tools might miss is that the search itself is often the symptom. It’s very common to compulsively research symptoms, trying to chase after certainty, but only finding more uncertainty and more anxiety. Google knows your past search history so it should be able to spot patterns of compulsively researching symptoms. But are we ready for Google to be like a good bartender that cuts us off from our addiction when we’ve had enough? How would you like Google to support you with tackling health anxiety issues?
We’ll test out the new tools when they go live to see if common OCD searches related to health fears return any suggestion that there’s a mental health issue.
Image: An artist’s representation of what we hope the new Google search tools will look like.