Google Search is getting the ability to let users find appointment availability of doctors to plan their health checkups, without having to use a third-party solution. The update was showcased at Google’s second annual healthcare-focused event The Check Up on Thursday. In addition to the Google Search update, the Mountain View, California-based company at its virtual event announced plans to integrate support for detecting atrial fibrillation (AFib) within Fitbit fitness-tracking devices to help people receive alerts for signs of an irregular heart rhythm. Google also announced a series of Health AI updates that are aimed to transform 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 rolling out the ability to let users find appointment availability for doctors and local care 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 once you search for a particular practitioner or facility on Google Search. Once a relevant appointment date appears, you can hit the Book button next to the available schedule. It will take you to the third-party booking site.
Google is initially working with some healthcare providers and scheduling solution providers in the US, including MinuteClinic at CVS. The feature is also set to be rolled out for users searching in English in the US in the coming days. However, it is aimed to be available in other markets as well over time.
Alongside appointment bookings via Google, Fitbit announced that it is working on an AFib algorithm that will work with the existing optical Photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor available on its wearables to detect and alert users about irregular heart rhythm. The algorithm is currently with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for review. However, it is expected to be available as an update to consumer fitness-tracking bands and smartwatches by Fitbit over time.
Citing an internal research, Google said that its in-house algorithm accurately identified undiagnosed AFib 98 percent of the time.
Companies including Apple already have support for detecting and alerting users about AFib. However, Fitbit’s move could bring AFib detection to a range of price points.
Separately, Google announced its early-stage developments under the Health AI division at The Check Up event. One of these advancements is to use the built-in microphones of a smartphone to work as a stethoscope.
Google cited research on how it is using the inbuilt microphones to record a participant’s heart sounds when placed over chest.
The latest research investigates whether a smartphone can detect heartbeats and murmurs, the company said. The detection will, though, be limited to certain smartphone models as it requires specific hardware inputs.
“We’re currently in the early stages of clinical study testing, but we hope that 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 post.
Google is also working with partners including EyePACS and Chang Gung Memorial Hospital to investigate photos from smartphone cameras to help detect diabetes and no-diabetes diseases.
Aside from using smartphone cameras for detecting heartbeats, murmurs, and signs of diabetes, Google said that it is working on using artificial intelligence (AI) along with smartphones to provide maternal ultrasound screening. The company has partnered with Northwestern Medicine to develop and test its models for expanding the research.
The overall research around using 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.
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