In the Emergency Room I’m far too familiar with patients who present to the ER after they “googled” their symptoms. Often times patients will apologize for this but I actually have no issues with this. I tell my patients I’m glad they care enough about their health to search and find out whats going wrong. The problem I have is when they land on a random forum and suddenly think they have a horrible random pathology.
This is one of the main reasons I teach my residents and medical students to always ask the following to every patient: “What is the main thing that brought you to the Emergency Room and from your symptoms is there any particular thing or diagnosis you are concerned about?”.
The responses we get to this simple question alone is amazing. I’ve gotten anything ranging from bran tumor to kawasaki’s to the FBI implanted a device in my head. The last response being from a schizophrenic — have to be careful who you ask that question to.
So when I read Google is going to be modifying the search results that pop up when patients search for their symptoms it was welcome news. I personally recommend Mayo’s website and Wikipedia to my patients when they want to learn more in depth about a diagnosis I’ve made. Google is partnering with Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic in order to provide better search results for patients.
In the coming days, when patients search for symptoms — such as “left sided headache” — the first result will be sourced from Mayo or Harvard. Not a random forum. Harvard’s health website has a nice “When to worry” section on chief complaints which nails a lot of differentials. In Google’s blog post they mention how providing these flashcards of information when you search for symptoms might help you determine if a complaint warrants a doctors visit or not. To be fair, Google isn’t removing the search results that come across, but is providing blocks of information before the first search result.
I love the step that Google is taking to deliver more useful results when it comes to health. In the past self diagnosis health apps have actually shown to increase health care utilization, but I’m excited to see researchers look into Google’s search results to see how the results could influence patient behavior.