Don't shun Dr Google - researching mysterious symptoms online is actually a good idea, study finds
- People who searched for symptoms online were more likely to give an accurate diagnosis, according to a new study.
- Doctors say searching for symptoms online can lead to excessive anxiety, but findings suggest there may be some good in doing your own research.
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If you diagnosis an illness after searching for symptoms online, your hypothesis may be accurate, according to a new report.
The study, conducted at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School Department of Health Care Policy, found that people were more likely to accurately diagnose a loved one's sickness after searching for symptoms online, compared to when they tried to diagnose them having done no prior research.
What's more, participants didn't report an uptick in anxiety after searching for symptoms and were able to determine if the ill could wait for an appointment or call 911.
"Our work suggests that it is likely OK to tell our patients to 'Google it,'" Dr. David Levine, study author and general internist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.
Study participants gave a better diagnosis before and after an internet search
Researchers asked 5,000 people to read a case study comprising various symptoms, then give a diagnosis. Participants then searched for the symptoms online, then gave another, more informed, diagnosis.
Diagnoses were more accurate after participants searched online.
One limitation, however, is that researchers asked participants to imagine that the person experiencing the symptoms was a loved one. It's unclear if the findings could apply to people diagnosing themselves.
There's some evidence that Googling symptoms can be beneficial
These findings contradict what nurses and doctors advise: Don't Google symptoms.
An earnest symptoms search can lead to doomscrolling and undue anxiety, especially if a stubbed toe turns into skin cancer. Doctors have cautioned that searching for your symptoms can lead to a wrong diagnosis or a wrong treatment. A study also found that out of 23 websites that offered information about diagnoses and treatments, the correct diagnosis came up first in search only 34% of the time.
But Levine said this study may start to change the narrative. "This starts to form the evidence base that there's not a lot of harm in that, and, in fact, there may be some good."
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