Diagnosis Big Data. Diagnosis Google.

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We are fortunate enough to work with a large number of technology companies that utilise data, the internet of things and emerging technologies. And we love keeping an eye out for progressive developments in the digital world. Here’s something that’s pricked our ears up over the last few days….

This week, internet giant Google has released details of a new venture that is in equal parts pointless and scary. Pointless and scary? Allow me to explain…

The project Google is embarking on (and have in fact already rolled out in parts of the US) is to begin ‘showing medical details in search results that are related to illnesses’. At first glance this does not seem to be particularly ground-breaking. “Googling” – now an accepted verb that Microsoft Word does not question – symptoms is almost as old as the internet itself and is can be one of the reasons you end up on the phone to your mother in floods of tears because that mild stomach ache, that weirdly came on after some over-indulgence, may well mean you have advanced illness.

It is precisely this kind of hysteria-inducing search result that Google is trying to combat.

The aim is admirable. Health and wellbeing sites websites are notoriously difficult to navigate and search results range from the innocuous to the blood chilling. Working with doctors and experts from Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic, Google claim that they are able to produce ‘cards’ which display more probable causes of symptoms with details like names, dates and other important information.

Google has stressed the tool is for ‘information purposes only’ and that a doctor should always be consulted before any medical action is taken.

Here’s where things get pointless and a bit scary.

The last time you went to the doctor’s you may have noticed, with some incredulity, that having established your symptoms their next step was to fire up a Google page. But don’t worry, your doctor (probably) doesn’t have a set of fake papers stashed in their bottom drawer, this is common practice for almost half of GPs. With Google now refining its ability to zero in on symptoms, expect that percentage to rise.

So we Google our symptoms and decide we need to see the doctor, s/he Googles our symptoms and agrees with our diagnosis. The doctor is Google; Google is the doctor. The practice represents a duplication of efforts and yields yet more personal information for the engine.

The tool may well lead to an increase in accurate diagnoses, fantastic if it does but it also becomes one more way our lives become dependent on a set of servers and networks deep in Silicon Valley.