Google Aims to Improve Health-Related Searches

    May 14, 2009
    Chris Crum

Google is researching how users of the search engine search the web when someone they know is sick. Google calls this a temporary experiment, but one that people might find interesting.

This experiment will trigger a poll question on a small percentage of random health-related searches. In cases where these occur, users will see see boxes like these in their search results:

Google Health Poll

Google Health Poll

"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," Google explains in an official blog post. "Statistics gathered in this experiment may also help Google deliver more relevant search results in the future."

They give an example of a search for "arthritis pain". This could be someone researching arthritis in general, or someone looking for treatments, or something else entirely. Google wants to get better at figuring this out (intent-based search anyone?).

Google is quick to address any potential privacy concerns that users may have regarding this news:

Data collected in this survey will be aggregated across thousands of users. Survey responses will be stored together with the original search query, but will not be associated with email addresses or other personally identifiable information. Survey data will not be used for advertising — it will only be used to help Google improve health-related search results and to help refine public health trends based on aggregated search queries, much like Google Flu Trends.

Google is choosing the search terms it uses for the polls by surveying users about health-related terms. The company says it is avoiding asking about potential embarrassing or life-threatening topics. This includes items related to mental health, illegal behavior, and sexual behavior.

Users who see the poll are not required to respond to get their search results. More information about it can be viewed in this FAQ.