Your Doctor is Googling

When doctors mysteriously leave the room for 15 minutes after you’re done bitching about whatever your ailment is–they’re not playing golf or calling Hugh Laurie to exchange witticisms–they’re googling. Or, they should be, according to new research.

“Two Australian doctors have found that entering the symptoms of a tricky case into the internet search engine often results in accurately diagnosing the illness.

They put Google to the test by entering the symptoms of 26 difficult cases recorded in the New England Journal of Medicine into the search engine to see how accurate an aid to diagnosis it was. And in 58% of cases using the search engine led to the correct diagnosis.”

Well, that settles it for us. In 58% of times… what exactly were we paying the doctor for again? Oh yeah. Write the prescription, asshole. We’ve got internets.— MEGHANN MARCO

Doctors Turn to Google for Tricky Cases [Guardian]


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  1. senseigmg says:

    I shadowed a physician(neurologist) for about 6 months, and when we left the room, he was looking up information on PubMed about 90% of the time. Maybe it is different for him because he is more specialized, even within neurology, but I don’t think the majority of doctors would use google which probably has much more incorrect information than PubMed.

  2. VA_White says:

    I believe it. I watched this show “Medical Mystery” or something like that on Discovery Health Channel recently. The patient had been having “spells” her whole life. She would get kind of dizzy, smell almonds, then space out for several minutes. They got so bad she couldn’t drive or work. Her symptoms baffled doctors for over 25 years.

    I guessed correctly that the woman was having epileptic petit mal seizures two minutes into the show. The almond smell was the first tip-off.

    How did I know this? Because my granddad had epilepsy that gave him seizures exactly like hers. They were not the convulsive fits most people think of when they think epilepsy.

    The internet today brings together people with similar medical problems no matter how far away from each other they might live. You can google the rarest of rare disorders – ones even most physicians have never heard of – and come up with loads of info in seconds.

    Doctors can’t possibly know everything and if my doctor is stumped and her colleague down the hall doesn’t have any ideas, then I would hope she’d google up the possibilities and run with them.

  3. Slack says:

    “Oh yeah. Write the prescription, asshole. We’ve got internets”

    Furthering that logic…
    “And go ahead and write it for this drug I saw during a time-out in the Dallas-Washington game, cuz it’s da shizzznit for my symptom(s) biyotch.”

    What a stupid statement.

  4. SpamFighterLoy says:

    The doctors at our local ER use WebMD for your release papers. I was surprised to see the logo on the paper, but they said it’s commonplace now. AFTER they’ve diagnosed your condition and done initial treatment, they send you home with a printout explaining continued care from WebMD.

    I guess if it lowers healthcare costs…

  5. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I think it’s a good idea. I use Google all the time for obscure computer problems and no matter how weird the computer error message, there are usually fellow geeks that have been puzzled by the same ones. So geeky doctors turning to Google to look up obscure bodily error-messages seems like a natural thing to do.

    In the old days, the doctors would have left the room to look up the symptoms in a huge library full of medical journals, so doing it on the internet seems like a logical next step.

  6. North of 49 says:

    What gets me is all the times my doctor has told me to not look stuff up because he wouldn’t know where I was looking and if it was a “valid” site. Where was I looking more often than not? Webmd and related sites!

    Now, I don’t bother – the BC Health Guide is online and I can say I found it there. :P

  7. LTS! says:

    Ahh yes.. you’ll be right.. 58% of the time. What happens the other 42% of the time? Hey, only 1 in six chambers of a revolver will kill you, those are pretty good odds.

    “Oh yeah. Write the prescription, asshole. We’ve got internets”

    What an absolutely ignorant statement, I can’t wait for more great insight like this.

  8. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Here’s the thing; no matter what kind of information someone can find on Google, self-diagnosis is extremely dangerous. If you’re having car or computer problems, and you happen to find something on the Internet and try a solution that backfires might be out some money, but most likely you won’t be out your life.

    You still need a doctor to evaluate the information and integrate it into your family history, other symptoms, and test results. The doctor isn’t going to go to some web-page and say “Oh, maybe it is neuropathy brought on by Portugese spotted tick fever, so I guess I’ll try that one. Hmm, this web page says to give the patient 500 mg of arsenic twice a day. Sounds good to me!”.

    Google is a tool. It would suggest possibilities or lines of questioning that the doctor might not have otherwise thought of. That would be followed by consultations with other doctors, further research in medical texts and journals.

    I’ll be the first one to admit that the health care system in this country is out of whack, but I don’t think it’s at the doctor level. Most doctors I’ve ever met are pretty damned sharp. It’s the HMO’s, insurance companies, and drug conglamorates that are pushing costs into the stratosphere (even then, that’s a huge oversimplification of the issue).

  9. RumorsDaily says:

    I’m pretty sure the prescription line was a joke.

  10. Angiol says:

    Ingen Angiven: Well, yes, but some people here have no sense of humor.

  11. acambras says:

    Amen, dwayne — computers are tools. If my internist (who is brilliant in her own right) uses the internet for research, that’s just one more tool in her arsenal, like medical journals or diagnostic tests.

    Now I did once go to this dermatologist — he was a real tool in his own right — but that’s a whole ‘nother post, I guess… ;-)

  12. Amy Alkon says:

    People are far too predisposed to see their doctors as experts. Sure, they went to med school and passed their boards…but how long ago? How many keep up on the latest studies, or even give medical journals in their specialty the most cursory read? I suggest approaching any medical diagnosis or advice with a grain of salt and a cable Internet connection.

  13. LTS! says:

    Amy – Try using that Doctor’s tool called Google.

    Doctors have requirements to stay up to date on Medicine if for no other reason than to limit the cost of their malpractice insurance which of course would be needed should they be horribly out of date and make a misdiagnosis ala Google. Research into the medical field will give you the answers you seek, try not to presuppose the entire situation.

    As far as the “joke” about prescriptions. It’s not funny and hardly qualifies as a joke. Calling it a joke sounds like a backpeddling politician whose joke on ignorance just backfired and insulted the military of the country he works for.

    No, instead the prescription comment is part and parcel of the cliche blog post where the poster puts themselves on high and bellows forth with their newfound “superiority” while really showing nothing more than a misplaced cynicism and thereby undercutting any substance their words had in the first place.

  14. Triteon says:

    When a patient diagnoses himself he has a fool for a doctor. When is it we can agree to throw out our “Trust No One” cigarette lighters?

  15. I was listening to a doctor talk about MedPOEMs (I guess it’s InfoPOEMs now) and he basically said the same thing: they leave the room to look up information. It confused me the first couple of times it happened because the doctor dashed out of the room like I’d just told them their car was on fire.

    Unfortunately, I’ve still had to tell all but one doctor how to treat me even after I’ve told them I have this specific problem. “…write the perscription…” actually happens to some of us (but I do get that it was a joke).

  16. AcilletaM says:

    I will never throw out my “Trust No One” lighter.

    Oh, and the people in this post’s picture are not human. Just look, freaky.

  17. Arsenic cured my arthritis.