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Google can help doctors diagnose difficult cases
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13rd November 2006
Adrienne Penfield

Searching with Google may help doctors to diagnose difficult cases, finds a study from Australia published on today.

Doctors have been estimated to carry two million facts in their heads to help them diagnose illness, but with medical knowledge expanding rapidly, even this may not be enough. Google is the most popular search engine on the world wide web, giving users quick access to more than three billion medical articles.
 Our study suggests that in difficult diagnostic cases, it is often useful to google for a diagnosis
 Study authors

So, how good is Google in helping doctors diagnose difficult cases?

Doctors at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane identified 26 difficult diagnostic cases published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005. They included conditions such as Cushing's syndrome and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

They selected three to five search terms from each case and did a Google search while blind to the correct diagnoses.

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

Google searches found the correct diagnosis in 15 (58%) of cases.

The authors suggest that Google is likely to be a useful aid for conditions with unique symptoms and signs that can easily be used as search terms.

However, they stress that the efficiency of the search and the usefulness of the retrieved information depend on the searchers' knowledge base.

Doctors and patients are increasingly using the internet to search for health related information, and useful information on even the rarest medical syndromes can now be found and digested within a matter of minutes, say the authors.

"Our study suggests that in difficult diagnostic cases, it is often useful to google for a diagnosis."

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