Health & Wellness

Doctor Visit vs Dr. Google

Who should you ask about new symptoms?

            Today, health information is at your finger-tips. All it takes is a quick Internet search to get information on any condition. You can even type your symptoms into a symptom checker and see possible diagnoses that match what you are experiencing. This practice has become so commonplace that it’s now referred to as “consulting Dr. Google.” But how accurate are these tools? How reliable is the information about health on the Internet? How do you know if you need to see your doctor?
Symptom Checkers
            A recent study compared the accuracy of a doctor’s diagnosis to those of more than 20 online symptom checker tools. Doctors were provided with files containing a list of symptoms and a medical history, but no patient was present to examine. Under these conditions, doctors arrived at the correct diagnosis 74 percent of the time. The same information was then entered into symptom checkers; these only provided the right diagnosis 34 percent of the time. When asked to provide three possible diagnoses, doctors’ accuracy increased to 84 percent, but the correct diagnosis was only in the symptom checkers’ top three list 51 percent of the time.
            As an informal experiment, MS Focus staff entered common symptoms of MS into ten popular sites’ symptom checkers, in various combinations. These tools offered possible diagnoses ranging from the common cold to cancer, but rarely suggested MS as a possibility.
Health News
            How about online news articles that discuss health matters? A review of the 100 most frequently shared health articles of 2018, conducted by Health Feedback in collaboration with the Credibility Coalition, found that slightly less than half of these articles were scientifically accurate and highly credible. Another 35 percent were found to be inaccurate and potentially harmful, while the remainder were considered somewhat accurate or did not contain enough information to judge their accuracy.
            However, the reviewers found that articles from established news sources (television networks, major newspapers, and magazines) tended to be accurate and reliable. National nonprofits, hospital networks, and government health agencies are also known for reliable health information.
When to Use Internet Health
            While you may be seeking reassurance by looking up your symptoms before your visit, that strategy can backfire. A 2017 study found that two-thirds of people who did so were not reassured, and of those, one-third became actively worried after an Internet search.
            When you have a new symptom or a change in existing symptoms, it’s best to discuss it with your doctor or nurse first. After you have discussed the health change with your medical providers, then using reliable internet sources to learn more about a symptom, treatment, or condition can help you put it in perspective, remember the advice and instructions you were given, and effectively manage your health.