Is There a Google in the House?

Doctors facing a patient with unusual symptoms could well be advised to use Google to try to pinpoint the cause, a study published by the British Medical Journal suggests.

Australian doctors were given 26 real-life cases of individuals who had fallen sick with relatively rare disorders.

They were not told what diagnoses had been given in these case reports but did a Google search based on the symptoms that were presented.

Google returned the right diagnosis in 15 out of the 26 cases – an accuracy rate of 58 percent.

The disorders ranged from cirrhosis and the degenerative brain disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, to cat-scratch disease, infective encephalitis and obscure conditions such as Henoch-Scholein purpura, Churg-Strauss syndrome and extrinsic allergic alveolitis.

“As internet access becomes more readily available in outpatient clinics and hospital wards, the web is rapidly becoming an important clinical tool for doctors,” the paper says.

“The use of web-based searching may help doctors to diagnose difficult cases.”

The authors add a caveat, however: the results from Google are only as good as the knowledge base of the searcher – a caution that especially applies to patients who try to self-diagnose their problems.

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