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Stumped on disease symptoms? Web pages provide correct answers, study reveals

Friday, November 10, 2006 by: Ben Kage
Tags: health information, health news, Natural News


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(NewsTarget) Doctors can diagnose hard-to-recognize conditions with the help of the Google internet search engine, a team of Australian researchers has found.

According to the report -- published on the British Medical Journal web site -- the researchers selected three to five search terms for each of the 26 New England Journal of Medicine study cases -- before the correct diagnosis was known -- and entered them into the Google search engine. Then, the top three diagnosis from the search results and selected the one that seemed most relevant to the symptoms. The correct diagnosis was selected in 15 cases, including Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD), Cushing's syndrome and Churg-Strauss syndrome.

Lead study author and respiratory and sleep physician Dr. Hangwi Tang lauded Google as a "useful aid" in diagnosis of conditions with unique symptoms that make useful search terms, but added that a "human expert" was needed, meaning patients would not be able to self-diagnose through Google.

Google, the most popular search engine on the web, has access to more than three billion medical articles, and experts say that health information is one of the most common searches on the web.

"Web-based search engines such as Google are becoming the latest tools in clinical medicine, and doctors in training need to become proficient in their use," Tang said.

"The internet is in no way a replacement for doctors," said professor Mayur Lakhani, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners. "Their clinical judgment and expertise will always be necessary to make sense of the information.

"Rather, (the internet) should be seen as a way of supporting doctors and their patients."

One spokesperson for the Patients Association noted there were inherent dangers with internet diagnosis.

"Doctors have a very wide knowledge when it comes to diagnosing conditions," she said. "But we would be concerned if they were using web sites to diagnose people, what would happen if they gave the patient the wrong information? Also ... there are lots of good sites out there, but we also know that there are many that are not credible."

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