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The Internet is a blessing and curse when it comes to your health. More medical information is available than ever before—some of which can actually save lives. But when you have a minor case of the sniffles, it's also easier than ever to overreact. Online, everything will kill you.
Google is hoping the sound information outweighs the worst-case scenarios with its newest feature. The company announced it's expanding how it shows you health information. Already if you search for a condition like "sinus infection," a little teal box pops up with information, symptoms, and treatments, all with real sources and consults from MDs. It's a great way to differentiate between online quacks and actual research.
And now, it's going to get even better. In a blog post (opens in new tab), Google announced that it's doubling the number of health conditions that will have the little teal box. And if you add words like "symptoms" to your search, it'll take you straight to that tab. You can even take your research to the doctor's office by printing out easy-to-download PDFs. (Which you should definitely do, because self-diagnosis is not an alternative to professional diagnosis.)
Google is aiming this upgrade at important, infectious diseases around the world. During a recent Legionnaires' disease outbreak in New York, the company noticed an uptick in search. They responded accordingly by adding tropical diseases that affect 1.5 billion people around the world, but are often ignored in medical research. Right now, the database is only in English, but translations are in the works. So at least when people are Googling their symptoms, it could actually help stop the spread of disease, rather than just make them think they have cancer. (Not that it's happened to me or anything.)
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Megan Friedman is the former managing editor of the Newsroom at Hearst. She's worked at NBC and Time, and is a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.
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