Google Search will let you find now, book a doctor’s appointment

Google Search gets the ability to enable users to find the availability of physicians to plan their health examinations, without using a third-party solution. The update was unveiled Thursday at Google’s second annual healthcare-focused event, The Check Up. In addition to the Google Search update, Mountain View, California-based company announced at its virtual event plans to integrate atrial fibrillation (AFib) support within Fitbit fitness tracking devices to help people receive alerts for signs of ‘ an irregular heart rhythm. Google has also announced a series of Health AI updates aimed at transforming smartphones to work as stethoscopes or an ultrasound machine for early diagnosis, even in remote areas.

By partnering with healthcare providers and a number of scheduling solution providers, Google Search is building the ability to allow users to find appointments for doctors and local healthcare providers. Users will see the available appointment dates and times for doctors in the area directly through the search results.

The appointment availability will appear as soon as you search for a specific practitioner or facility on Google Search. Once a relevant appointment date appears, you can Book button next to the available schedule. This will take you to the third party discussion site.

Google Search gives you the ability to find the availability of appointments from doctors and healthcare providers
Photo Credit: Google

Google initially partnered with some healthcare providers and scheduling solution providers in the US, including MinuteClinic at CVS. The feature will also be rolled out in the coming days for users searching in English in the US. However, it aims to be available in other markets over time.

In addition to appointment bookings via Google, Fitbit has announced that it is working on an AFib algorithm that will work with the existing Optical Photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor available on its portable devices to detect and warn users about irregular heartbeat. The algorithm is currently with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for review. However, it is expected to be available in due course as an update to consumer fitness tracking straps and smartwatches by Fitbit.

Referring to an internal research, Google said that its internal algorithm accurately identified undiagnosed AFib 98 percent of the time.

Companies including Apple already have support for tracking and alerting users about AFib. However, Fitbit’s move could bring AFib tracking to a range of price points.

Google has also announced the expansion of health information panels on YouTube to markets such as Brazil, India and Japan. It used to be limited to the US.

Separately, Google announced its early-stage developments under the Health AI section at The Check Up event. One of these advances is to use the built-in microphones of a smartphone to work as a stethoscope.

Google cited research on how it uses the built-in microphones to record a participant’s heart sounds when placed over the chest.

The latest research is investigating whether a smartphone can detect heartbeat and noise, the company said. However, the detection will be limited to certain smartphone models as it requires specific hardware inputs.

“We are currently in the early stages of clinical trial testing, but we hope our work can empower people to use the smartphone as an additional tool for accessible health evaluation,” said Greg Corrado, Head of Health AI at Google, in a blog posting.

Google is also working with partners, including EyePACS and Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, to examine smartphone camera images to help detect diabetes and non-diabetic diseases.

Aside from using smartphone cameras to detect heart rate, noise and signs of diabetes, Google said it is working on using artificial intelligence (AI) along with smartphones to provide the mother’s ultrasound examination. The company has partnered with Northwestern Medicine to develop and test its models to expand its research.

The overall research on the use of AI and smartphones as a combination to boost healthcare is currently at an early stage and may take some time and further efforts to work in the public sector.

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