Google’s new self-diagnosis tools should be treated with caution

28th June 2016

A new algorithm will provide a list of related conditions for symptom searches and self-treatment options. The technology has been launched in the US, with plans to roll it out in other countries in the near future

Google Symptom Checker

With up to 1% of searches being related to medical symptoms, millions of people worldwide rely on Google as their primary source of health information. 

More recently, the technology giant has worked closely with Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic to create a database of symptoms, which has been added into Google search technology with the aim to give more reliable information to users.

Although the move to improve the quality of medical information online is welcomed, the risk is that people may misdiagnose the early symptoms of life-threatening diseases such as meningitis “is a real concern” says Liz Brown, CEO of Meningitis Now.

“We would encourage anyone showing a combination of meningitis symptoms such as severe headache, vomiting, muscle pain and fever with cold hands and feet to trust their instincts and seek medical advice immediately and not waste time using online diagnosis.  These could be the early signs of meningitis and septicaemia. 

“There is conflicting advice online, and a rash is often a later symptom.

“Earlier this year Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, advised people to use Google to diagnose the rash often associated with meningitis. On this occasion we voiced our concerns, calling this advice irresponsible and that whilst a search engine can provide useful information, it is no substitute for the clinical expertise that is offered by staff in our NHS.  My advice is to trust your instincts over technology! If you have any concerns you should seek advice from a medical professional immediately – lost time equals lost lives”.

Find more information on the signs and symptoms of meningitis here.