Google recently launched a trial telemedicine project: Healthcare Helpouts. Built on their general Helpouts platform, the service will offer video conferencing with doctors, free of charge during the trial period.

Helpouts was released in November of 2013 with the aim of providing people with better learning resources on the internet. It connects “providers”—experts in a field, be they individuals, groups, or companies—with those curious to learn. The providers are screened by Google and many charge a fee per session or per minute, while some are available free of charge.

The product is a live, interactive video tutorial, on pretty much anything you can imagine: it only takes 15 minutes and $25 to learn “How to cut your own bangs like a pro,” while “Guitar Lessons for Advanced Students” are available for $0.83 per minute. Now, for a limited number of trial users, Helpouts will also cover medical questions.

Medical professionals wishing to participate must have a valid license in good standing; it is unclear what level of training is required. Doctors are certain eligible; it remains to be seen if nurse practitioners, nurses, EMTs, or others will be included, and if so how Google will regulate who provides what services.

A screenshot published by Engadget from a trial user’s phone shows a regular Google search for “knee pain” yielding, in addition to typical search results, an option to “Talk with a doctor now” and the following explanatory text: “Based on your search query, we think you are trying to understand a medical condition. Here you can find health care providers who you can visit with over video chat. All visit costs are covered by Google during this limited trial.” This offers a preview of how the service will likely be offered in the future; any medical search may yield an offer to video chat with a Google-approved medical professional, for a fee.

Google is attempting to enter the healthcare field, and to incorporate mobile devices into it, in very different ways from archrival Apple, whose Health app we have discussed in recent articles. While Apple is trying to make modern quantitative health data more accessible and useful, and provide you and your doctor with better access to it, Google is bringing back a virtual form of an older style of medicine: the house call, though with an unfamiliar doctor.

The ideal solution may be a combination of the two: the virtual house call of telehealth, but with your own doctor, along with the added benefit of optimally accessible modern health data.

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