Google Tries to Capture Health Data From Searches

Some Google users may have noticed that health-related searches generate more than a simple list of results.

For instance, a search for "headache" might prompt a response that asks, "Did you search because you or someone you know has a headache? Yes/No."

This survey, and other similar ones, are part of Google's attempt to improve the quality of data harnessed from health-related searches.

As another example, if a user were to Google "ibuprofen," an anti-inflammatory drug, he or she might be asked a follow-up by Google that says, "Did you search because you or someone you know is taking ibuprofen? Yes/No."

"Understanding how people search when they're feeling sick is an important problem to solve, as it can help improve projects like Google Flu Trends, which uses aggregated search data to detect influenza epidemics. Statistics gathered in this experiment may also help Google deliver more relevant search results in the future," Roni Zeiger, an MD and Google product manager and Jeremy Ginsberg, a Google software engineer wrote on the company's corporate blog.

They added that when "someone who searches for [arthritis pain] to understand why an aging parent is experiencing joint pain might want to learn about nearby health facilities and potential treatments, whereas somebody who searches for [arthritis pain] because she is doing a research project might want results about how common arthritis is and what its risk factors are."

Google has other health-related services based on search. The company launched a Flu Trends in April, which tracks how often people searched for flu-related terms on Google across the country or in certain states. This, the company said, is a good indicator of how many people have the flu.

Google did not respond to an Industry Standard request for an interview.

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