If there is one way to annoy an M.D., veterinarian or nutritionist, it is to start a sentence with “I saw on the internet that…” No, you didn’t. You saw something which you are not equipped to interpret or understand, out of context, from an unreliable source. This is why you are willing to pay money for the services of someone who has actually spent years and thousands of dollars to gain the scientific knowledge necessary to give credible advice.
However, this doesn’t mean that Google doesn’t have a huge number of applications for those who care about their health, mental and physical. From finding resources such as a depression chat room to researching obscure theories, most people are not yet aware of all this totally free service can do.
When searching for queries such as “how to suicide”, Google as well as most other search engines tweak their top-ranked results and display informational messages not found in other searches – in Google’s case, the number of the suicide hotline most appropriate to the user’s location next to an eye-catching telephone icon.
While measures such as these go against their usual policy of showing googlers the results most relevant to their search text, it’s to be hoped that at least some people near the end of their rope will be encouraged to pick up the phone.
Making Calorie-Counting Easier
Few real dietitians will claim that simply adding up the calories in a diet is all that’s required to manage a person’s weight; after all, there’s a major difference between a 500 calorie candy bar and 500 calories of kidney beans. However, for those who are interested in a rough but reasonably reliable estimate, Google does make it quite easy to get macronutrient information on a variety of common foodstuffs.
With no more than a few keystrokes, a person can learn that a Big Mac yields 26g of protein, a bagel contains 245 calories and a cup of strawberries 141% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C. Such broad-strokes estimates are unlikely to be totally correct, and the nutrient content of different foods depends on their provenance, but someone intending to pursue a low-calorie or high-protein diet can use this tool as an excellent starting point. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides the bulk of the data used.
For those who are somewhat scientifically minded, or have a pressing need to research a particular subject, Google Scholar makes finding peer-reviewed papers, academically orientated books and other materials easier than ever. Bibliographies can be generated with the touch of a button, and those who subscribe to university or professional libraries can integrate these into the normal Scholar search results.
One of the most useful aspects of Google Scholar is that each result is accompanied by the number of other publications that cite it – more means that that text is influential and presumably credible, while fewer may either indicate that it’s recent or less respected. If a particular article seems relevant, dozens of related articles can easily be found, including those in languages other than English, without having to conduct a fresh search or scroll to page 101.
Although there are numerous fitness apps out there, they differ in the customization options they offer as well as integration with 3rd party apps and devices. Most will allow you to set goals and monitor your progress towards them, and even make suggestions based on factors such as a person’s height and weight.
The Google app uses a smartwatch’s or phone’s various sensors to automatically detect when the user is walking, jogging or riding a bike, or can be manually set to record time spent doing over a hundred other forms of exercise. Fitness apps such as these should not be seen as a reliable indicator of calories consumed or performance improvements; rather, they are motivational tools that allow a person to track their fitness efforts over days, weeks and months.
The tech behemoth continues to buy up promising startup companies, including those aiming at using smartphones and their sensors to provide basic physiological measurements.
They’ve also developed their own version of electronic health records (EHR), although this has since been scrapped. This service could be maintained privately by each individual and shared with doctors as needed. Relevant research on various conditions could be done through Scholar or in a healthcare encyclopedia curated by Google, medication and prescriptions could be managed, among many other functions. EHR is a confusing, competitive industry, and it will be interesting to see if privately curated health records become popular in future.
“Google” and “searching for information” are pretty much synonyms these days, even according to the dictionary. The total amount of genetic information available is edging toward the exabyte range (one exabyte is 1,000,000,000 gigabytes). Juggling this amount of ones and zeroes, or GATC base pairs if you prefer, is no easy task, which is why Google aims to provide a powerful, versatile service to explore these datasets, conceptually similar to Google Maps. Few individuals not in the biotech world will ever want to use Genomics, but its potential as an open research tool means it has to be included in this list.