October 13

Google’s testing a feature that lets you chat, live, with someone better qualified to diagnose you than WebMD. (iStock)
Just in time for flu season, Google is experimenting with a feature that provides live video chat advice to searchers looking for information on some medical conditions.

We’ve all probably convinced ourselves at least once through frantic online searching, that we — or our children — have some sort of undiagnosed chronic or catastrophic disease. (Ebola, we’re looking at you.) With the video chat option, Google may be able to alleviate some of those concerns by providing a real, live doctor to walk down that panic level at those times when you’re trying to figure out whether it’s worth scheduling a doctor’s appointment or not.

Google confirmed that it’s running the program in a limited trial. “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,” said a Google spokeswoman in a statement. “We’re trying this new feature to see if it’s useful to people.”

During the trial period, Google is covering all the costs of the online consultations. A reddit user first brought attention to the feature — part of Google’s general advice service, Helpouts — in a post showing Google offering a video chat option for his search on “knee pain.” Not every medical query yields the option for a live chat, and in some cases searchers may be asked to set up an appointment rather than have immediate access to a medical professional.

Telehealth is an area of medicine that a lot of companies have been looking at, particularly to improve the state of health care in rural parts of the country. But it carries its own regulatory headaches — in many cases, states don’t allow for doctors to practice across state lines, which limits physicians’ ability to use telemedicine technology.
In Google’s case, the tech giant is partnering with a number of telehealth companies, including Scripps and One Medical, to provide the services to searchers and make sure that all the medical professionals on the other end of the chat line have the correct credentials.


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