Dr. Google the latest tool to help doctors diagnose unusual cases

Published on November 13, 2006 at 4:03 AM · 12 Comments

In a really interesting study a team of Australian doctors went to the Internet to test the effectiveness and accuracy of the search engine Google when it was presented with a number of symptoms.

The doctors based at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane 'Googled' the symptoms of 26 cases for a study and in 15 cases, the web search came up with the right diagnosis.

The researchers say Google can be a "useful aid", and while doctors carry a huge amount of medical information in their heads, the search engine may offer further help in an unusual case.

It is estimated that an average doctor needs to carry two million facts in his/her memory to assist in diagnosing illnesses.

Google is the most popular search engine on the web, and offers access to more than three billion medical articles; searching for health information on the web is one of the most common uses.

In each of the 26 cases hard-to-diagnose cases which had been published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the researchers selected three to five search terms from each case and did a Google search without knowing the correct diagnoses.

They then recorded the three diagnoses that were ranked most prominently and selected the one which seemed most relevant to the signs and then compared the results with the correct diagnoses as published in the journal.

They found that Google found the correct diagnosis in just over half of the cases and among these were Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the hormonal condition Cushing's syndrome and the auto-immune disorder Churg-Strauss syndrome.

The team was led by Dr. Hangwi Tang, a respiratory and sleep physician, who says Google could be a "useful aid" in diagnosing conditions with unique symptoms and signs that can easily be used as search terms.

But Dr. Tang also says a successful search needed a "human expert" user, and therefore patients would have less success trying to diagnose themselves on the internet.

The researchers say that computers connected to the internet are now common in outpatient clinics and hospital wards and information on even the rarest medical syndromes can now be found and digested within a matter of minutes.

The researchers believe that as medical information is expanding at a speed with which doctors will never be able to keep up, worldwide 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.

Other experts warn however against the internet becoming a replacement for doctors and say their clinical judgement and expertise will always be necessary to make sense of the information.

Google, say the team, is easy to use, useful and an excellent aid in finding the correct diagnoses for conditions with unique symptoms and signs.

They also add that using Google in this way was only considered reliable for health care professionals with good medical knowledge.

The study is published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

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Comments
  1. joannie melendez joannie melendez United States says:

    I have a question, I was opening clams and the knife slipped and I cut my thumb. It looks like I don't need stitches but the wound is kind of swollen and I can see a little of the skin tissue when I bend my thumb. I am using peroxide and neosporin and covering it with a band aide. This incident happened Monday night, is there anything I need to worry about?

  2. Gill Gill Australia says:

    Hi I was just wondering what is wrong with my wrist. I don't know how it happened but I must have done something because I have had a sore wrist nearly a year now and I can't put much pressure onto it and at times seems pretty weak.

  3. Chauncey Chauncey United Kingdom says:

    My wrist below my thumb on my left hand keeps getting some sort of pain as if its locking or a bone is overlapping/grinding agains another bone. its been like this since march, I was hoping it will just go away in time but it just hasnt & its stopping me from writing for a long amout of time & drawing, also if it's gripped around my wrist it starts to hurt.

  4. lyn ericsson lyn ericsson New Zealand says:

    Had numb sore feet for many years, I am diabetic, seen diabetic specialist, podiatrist who does not think its diabetic neuropathy.  Diabetic specialists tests came back ok. Had Polio as a four year old, not sure where it affected me. If I stretch feet they often sort of cramp and feel stiff. Had a neuroma under ball of left foot 10 or more years ago, which apparently was huge and prior to extremely painful.  This is not so painful during the day, but night time restless legs and pumping pain if I wake up in the night. At a loss as to where to go now. Orthopod were not really helpful. Also had knee replacement in left knee and have knee pain in night, and sometimes inside muscles hurt on both knees if a lot of stair climbing or exercise. Unoperated knee looks different from other one almost bowing.  Reluctant to have further knee surgery on so called good knee.  have a back problem mostly managed by chiropractic care.

  5. Laura Laura Australia says:

    My two and 1/2 year old has been off for about a month. She has been complaining of sore legs (she doesnt appear to have any rashes, bruising, etc), always being tired (she goes to bed at 8pm and is up at 6am, and she also has a sleep for 1 and 1/2 after lunch) and is constantly sooking. Her daycare mum has noticed that she just isn't quite right either. She is usually an extremely active little girl, but of late is more content just sitting and drawing or watching tv. When she does go outside, she complains that the sun is too bright. I at first thought she may just be having a growth spurt, but is it normal for it to go on for so long? She also has a older sister age 4 (who she shares a room with, but always has shared), and a younger brother age 6 months.

  6. mohan mohan India says:

    my name is mohan & my age is 27 i have back pain of head & so stress & pull of head this is repeated at 4-5 times in month please help me what i do

  7. shamli shamli United States says:

    is there any remedies for the neural hearing loss?how can we deal with it?i want to know the treatments given for it and the hospitals giving such treatment.could u help me

  8. trisha trisha Saudi Arabia says:

    actually i have a problem in heart,that means i feel the beat outside of heart when not in a hurry manner..while in a normal time itself i feel my beat was fast..y is it so?can u please help me

  9. James Gooley James Gooley Australia says:

    What causes post viral/infectious irritable bowel syndrome to re-occur each month? My problem is predictable on or about the 18th. to the 23rd. of each month. I have tried to describe this to people but the average person thinks that I imagine it.
    Thank you,
    Jim.

  10. John E. Harvey John E. Harvey United States says:

    Every time I take a shower my skin shows large patches of red, itchy skin.  I'm taking no medications.  I've been using the same soap for years.  What can be causing this?
    I have been diagnosed for acid reflux disease.  I have taken Nexium, Prevacid, Zantac, etc. and I am left with a jittery feeling around my upper chest around my heart that spreads throughout my whole body.  I stopped taking meds and still feel it.  Is that from the acid reflux?  is it the reflux leaving?  What's going on?

  11. Wendi Rich Wendi Rich United States says:

    I have restless leg syndrome, I am taking gabapentin but it isn't working......is there anything I can do ???!!!

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