The search engine already doubles as most households’ family doctor — how many of us have visited a real life doctor armed with a diagnosis courtesy of Googling? — so why not offer users access to a consultation when they type certain systems into the search bar.
The virtual consultations will be offered via Google’s Helpouts service, which launched last year as a marketplace where experts can create, post and sell access to pre-recorded and live how-to and training videos, and for the moment at least, the tests are small-scale and restricted to the US.
In typical Google fashion, the new feature went completely under the radar until someone on Reddit stumbled upon it over the weekend. But since the mainstream media has picked up on the story, Google has offered more background on the idea.
“When you’re searching for basic health information — from conditions like insomnia or food poisoning — our goal is to provide you with the most helpful information available,” a company spokesperson said in an email to Re/code. “We’re trying this new feature to see if it’s useful to people.”
Of course, a virtual consultation with a physician is limited. With no ability to physically examine a patent or run tests, diagnostic abilities will be limited. However, as well as Google, there are a host of other companies moving into the healthcare space, including those offering at home testing facilities such as Cue, whose clever little box can check for vitamin D levels, testosterone levels, the flu and whether or not the user is pregnant.
And of course the latest Samsung Galaxy S5 has an integrated heart-rate monitor.