Healthcare Technology Featured Article

October 13, 2014

Google Lets Users Chat with Doctors

Lots of people have typed queries into Google if they have medical questions, but the search giant is experimenting with a new feature that puts them in touch with a live doctor via video chat, according to The Guardian.

Jason Houle, a Springfield, MA-based Web developer, discovered the feature when searching for “knee pain” on his Android smartphone. In the search results, Houle noticed a link to “Talk with a doctor now.” He then posted a screenshot of the result on Reddit with the title “Had no idea Google started doing this.”

Google confirmed to The Guardian that it is offering video chats with doctors as part of its Helpouts (a modified form of its existing videoconferencing service).

“When you’re searching for basic health information – from conditions like insomnia or food poisoning – our goal is provide you with the most helpful information available. We’re trying this new feature to see if it’s useful to people,” a spokeswoman for Google told the paper.

Google is currently only offering the service in California and Massachusetts. The search giant has already been offering chats to members of One Medical Group’s insurance plans since last year.

With medical issues, there are obvious concerns about privacy, but Google is compliant with U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which mandates patient privacy standards.

Google chat is still no substitute for actually seeing a doctor, as the maximum length of the chat is 30 minutes. Google even urges users to see a doctor for serious medical concerns.

Still, offering real, reliable medical advice to users will make Google even more useful. There is already a lot of medical information available, but it’s difficult for a non-expert to put it in context. Anyone who’s had WebMD suggest from their symptoms that they have a serious disease will understand.

These short chats, if they expand to cover the rest of the U.S., could relieve pressure on doctors and emergency rooms as people with simpler queries can speak with doctors instead of venturing out to a clinic if they don’t really need to.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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