‘Dr Google’ aids diagnosis

Clinicians faced with a challenging case may be well advised to “Google for a diagnosis”, an Australian study has revealed.

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By  Healthcare Middle East Published  December 6, 2006

Clinicians faced with a challenging case may be well advised to “Google for a diagnosis”, an Australian study has revealed. Google is the most popular search engine on the internet, offering users quick access to an estimated three billion medical articles. To test its usefulness as a diagnostic aid, doctors at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane identified 26 difficult diagnostic cases published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005. Selected cases included conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The authors entered three to five symptoms from each case as search terms, and did a Google search while blind to the correct diagnoses. They then selected and recorded the three diagnoses that were ranked most prominently and seemed most suited to the symptoms and signs, and compared the results with the correct diagnoses as published in the journal. Google searches found the correct diagnosis, or at least that published in the journal, in 15 (58%) of cases, with successful diagnoses including neurofibromatosis type 1, amyotrophy and gastrointestinal bleed. There were some errors. A condition identified as graft versus host disease, actually carried a diagnosis of West Nile fever, but the authors suggest that Google is likely to be a useful aid for conditions with unique symptoms and signs that can easily be used as search terms. “Useful information on even the rarest medical conditions can now be found and digested within a couple of minutes,” they say. “Our study suggests that in difficult diagnostic cases, it is often useful to ‘Google for a diagnosis’.” However, they stress that the efficiency of the search and the usefulness of the retrieved information is dependent on the searchers’ knowledge base. With the rapid development of medicine, it is becoming increasingly difficult for clinicians to stay ahead of advances. The study’s results have prompted the authors to call for internet-based research to be integrated into the medical curriculum, as a formal diagnostic tool. “Web-based search engines such as Google are becoming the latest tools in clinical medicine, and doctors in training need to become proficient in their use,” they conclude.

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