NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 10, 2006

Doctors could turn to Google to help them diagnose illnesses, say experts.  The internet search engine found the correct diagnosis in 58 per cent of difficult cases.

But the idea has met with opposition from patient groups who questioned the credibility of many health sites.  And the Royal College of General Practitioners said the internet was in no way a replacement for doctors.

For the study, researchers at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, Australia, identified 26 difficult cases from the New England Journal of Medicine.  They included Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), Cushing's syndrome (a hormonal disorder), acute chest syndrome and Churg-Strauss syndrome (an autoimmune disease).

  • The study found that Google found the correct diagnosis in 15 of the 26 cases.
  • The experts said doctors would get a better result than patients, who may find the search less efficient and be less likely to reach the correct diagnosis.
  • They also suggested that medical students would find the tool useful.

The researchers concluded: Doctors and patients are increasingly proficient with the internet and frequently use Google to search for medical information.

Twenty five million people in the United Kingdom were estimated to have web access in 2001, and searching for health information was one of the most common uses of the web. 

The authors suggest that in difficult diagnostic cases, it is often useful to "Google for a diagnosis."  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.

Source: "Google could help doctors diagnose illness," London Daily Mail, November 10, 2006; based upon: Hangwi Tang and Jennifer Hwee Kwoon Ng, "Googling for a diagnosis--use of Google as a diagnostic aid: internet based study," British Medical Journal, November 10, 2006.


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