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Google looks into digitizing handwritten documents

Reading handwritten medical notes from the doctor is seemingly impossible, but Google is looking into assistive technology to help.

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As a technological monolith, Google and its multitudinous services have conquered some pretty rugged terrain. Now, the company is taking a stab at perhaps its most ambitious venture yet: translating doctors’ handwriting on prescriptions.

According to TechCrunch, Google is collaborating with pharmacists to identify common issues regarding the interpretation of doctors’ handwriting – and how to fix those issues so that consumers can finally understand their own prescriptions.

The data implications are potentially terrifying, as is the chance for misinformation, but Google assures consumers that their technology will be a single step in a verification process for future patients.

“This will act as an assistive technology for digitizing handwritten medical documents by augmenting the humans in the loop such as pharmacists, however, no decision will be made solely based on the output provided by this technology,” a statement released by Google clarified. 

No word regarding potential data concerns or the wisdom of uploading one’s medication and other sensitive personal information to the largest search company in the world has emerged, though Google is unlikely to make any promises.

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Like most text-to-nicer-text services offered across technology platforms, Google’s handwriting interpretation will allow a user to take a picture of the prescription or receipt and upload it to the pertinent app. The app will then identify medication names, proceeding to clarify and highlight them.

A critical piece of context is that this problem has been on the table for as long as anyone can remember, and although many different technology firms over the years have attempted to solve the issue of interpreting illegible handwriting, none have come close enough to securing an actionable piece of software.

It’s also worth noting that Google’s handwriting interpretation app is still a long way off, with Google emphasizing that it is still a prototype. TechCrunch adds that the company has not even committed to launching it at all, leading to some questions about whether or not this nebulous task is even possible.

After all, Google might have an easier time – if not more of a return on investment – convincing every doctor in the world to take a shot at writing like an actual person.

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Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

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