Google, MSN and Ask Looking After Your Health

How are you feeling? Might you be suffering from some deadly illness? Would you like a search engine to take care of you? Because they really, really want to: Google and MSN have ventures in the health vertical in the works and Ask.com beefed up many of its SERPs with special Health Smart Answers.

Google Blogoscoped has some early screenshots of Google Health. Remember when the rumors about Google Health began over a year ago? It turned out to be Google Co-op then, but now Google’s going for the health vertical.

However, rather than diagnosing illnesses, Google Health will collect medical history, presumably to share with future care providers. While you may be able to provide much of your medical history yourself, I just don’t trust myself (or most other people) to make a full and accurate record. Since Google Health probably won’t be out for another year, we’ll have to see what electronic medical records are like in a year before we ultimately judge.

The NYT says that Google Health “would give much more control to individuals, a trend many health experts see as inevitable.” It’s one thing for people to be able to control how others access their medical records; it’s another entirely to expect them to enter and maintain their entire history. Will people addicted to prescription drugs or plastic surgery be able to edit their medical histories to make doctors more likely to feed their addictions in the future?

MSN is also planning a future effort in the health vertical, probably in conjunction with MedStory, which they acquired earlier this year. As paidContent says, “Microsoft already has software in hospitals, doctor’s offices, etc. so could have an edge in that regard.”

Always trying to stay ahead of the pack, Ask.com launches Health Smart Answers. Search Engine Journal give an example of one of the smart answers:
oxycodone on ask
Ask gives Health Smart Answers on conditions, diseases and medications—and places them above their sponsored results.
Here’s Google’s top results for [oxycodone]:
oxycodone on google

Compared to Google’s smart answer, Ask offers more information directly on the page—another example of Ask making their search engine a destination rather than a means to an end.

As always, I can see positives and negatives of advancements like this. I’ve heard from doctors that appreciate patients coming in with possible diagnoses. However, I’m sure some doctors don’t appreciate when a patient comes in with their own diagnosis, expecting only a prescription.

I would also think that, from time to time, a patient’s self-diagnosis (especially one that’s search engine assisted) can hinder the doctor’s ability to diagnose (or simply convince the patient of) the real problem.