Dr. Google sees you now! Looking Up Symptoms On The Internet IMPROVES Your Ability To Diagnose Diseases Without Increasing Anxiety, Surprising Studies Find
- American researchers tested the ability of 5,000 volunteers to diagnose diseases
- She was asked to do this both before and after looking up symptoms online
- The findings suggest that concerns about ‘cyberchondria’ could be exaggerated
- But the team didn’t look at cases where people diagnosed their own symptoms
Looking up symptoms on the Internet may actually improve your ability to diagnose illness based on the symptoms somewhat without increasing anxiety, a study finds.
US researchers tested the ability of 5,000 volunteers to diagnose a disease, based on a specific list of symptoms, before and after consulting the Internet.
The findings run counter to popular advice to “ Dr. Google ‘before going to a doctor’s office.
Doctors were concerned that looking up symptoms online could increase people’s anxiety, a phenomenon called ‘cyberchondria’.
While the new findings suggest this may not be the case, the team cautioned that the study did not look at self-diagnosis, where people may respond differently.
Looking up symptoms on the Internet may actually improve your ability to diagnose illness based on the symptoms somewhat without increasing anxiety, a study finds (stock image)
“ I have patients all the time whose only reason they come into my office is because they googled something and said on the internet they have cancer, ” said author and clinician of the David Levine newspaper of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston .
“I wondered, ‘Are these all patients? How many cyberchondria is the Internet creating?”
To investigate this, Dr. Levine and colleagues recruited 5,000 people and asked them to imagine that someone close to them was experiencing a certain set of symptoms.
The cases chosen by the team ranged from mild to severe, but they were all common conditions, including heart attacks, strokes, and viral infections.
Each participant was asked to make a diagnosis based on the information provided, both before and after being allowed to look up the symptoms on the Internet.
They were also given the task of selecting a triage level, ranging from ‘let the health problem improve alone’ to ‘call emergency services’.
Finally, each participant was asked to record their individual anxiety level.
“ I have patients all the time whose only reason they come into my office is because they Googled something and said on the internet they have cancer, ” said author and physician David Levine of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The researchers found that people were slightly better at correctly diagnosing conditions after searching the Internet for the associated symptoms.
However, the search did not appear to result in a change in the participants’ anxiety levels, nor in their ability to correctly select a triage level.
“Our work suggests that it is probably okay to tell our patients to” google, “Levine said.
“This is starting to form the basis of evidence that there is not much harm in there, and in fact there may be something good.”
However, the researchers cautioned that the study is limited by letting the participants pretend to be diagnosing a loved one, rather than themselves.
It remains to be determined whether people behave like this when they experience the symptoms themselves and attempt to self-diagnose
Now that their first study is complete, Dr. Levine and colleagues plan to continue exploring the ability of artificial intelligence (AI) to use the Internet to accurately diagnose patients based on their symptoms.
“This next study uses a generalized AI algorithm, trained on all open-source text from the Internet, such as Reddit and Twitter, and then uses that to respond when prompted,” explained Dr. Levine explains.
Can AI complement how people use the internet? Could it complement the way doctors use the internet? That’s what we want to investigate. ‘
The full findings of the study have been published in the journal JAMA Network Open
Health anxiety, or hypochondria, is when you constantly worry about being sick or getting sick – so much so that it starts to take over your life.
Symptoms include checking your body regularly for signs of illness and looking obsessively at health information on the Internet.
Other signs that you have health anxiety often include worries that your doctor has missed something, leading others to assure you that you are not sick.
Anxiety itself can also cause symptoms such as headaches and an increased heart rate.
Relaxation techniques, as well as attempts to challenge your thoughts, can help reduce health anxiety.