Google announced today that it has made efforts to improve the quality of health-related searches.
Google's Chief Health Strategist, Roni Zeiger, MD, writes on Google's Inside Search Blog:
Every day, people search on Google for health information. Many of these searches relate to symptoms they or their loved ones may be experiencing. You might be trying to understand why you’ve had a headache every morning for a week or why your child has a tummy ache all of a sudden. Our data shows that a search for symptoms is often followed by a search for a related condition.
To make the process easier, now when you search for a symptom or set of symptoms, you'll often see a list of possibly related health conditions that you can use to refine your search. The list is generated by our algorithms that analyze data from pages across the web and surface the health conditions that appear to be related to your search.
For example, if you search for [abdominal pain on my right side], you’ll be able to quickly see some potentially related conditions and learn more about them by clicking on the links in the list.
Here's what it looks like:
The aggregated results come from various web sources. Zieger stresses that the list isn't authored by doctors, and the advice is not from medical experts.
Well, that is an important thing to keep in mind.
I have to go back to the "leve 4 brain cancer" example I've referenced in numerous articles. Back before the Panda update was launched a year ago, Google had an eHow article from a non-expert on cancer as the top result for the query "level 4 brain cancer". We used this as an example of where search quality (and the saturation of content from content farms) could be a real problem. Health is one area where the stakes can be much higher for search relevancy. These days, Google has a page from the the Brian Tumor Center at Harvard at the top, though the eHow article still sits at the number 2 position.
I'm not seeing the new-style results for this query, but then, I'm not seeing them for the above example either. I assume it's still in the process of rolling out.
It's not immediately clear how Google is generating the lists it is serving for these queries. I would hope it's not excluding advice from medical professionals when the info is available.
Of course, the web is not a substitute for actually seeing the doctor, but people do turn to it often for quick medical info, and it's important to society that people aren't being fed poor information. At least they're not just blindly throwing up advice from Google+.