If you’ve ever searched for medical symptoms online, you probably know how scary the long list of results can be. You may quickly become convinced that your headache is a fatal brain tumor, or that speck in your eye will cause blindness.
You may get many benefits from having the world’s knowledge at your fingertips, but getting a medical diagnosis online may cause more problems than solutions.
About 1% of searches on Google are about medical symptoms. That’s millions of searches a day from people trying to figure out what’s wrong with them.
Google Symptom Search
Earlier this summer, Google acknowledged that trying to diagnose yourself online might not be the best way to get medical treatment. “Health content on the web can be difficult to navigate, and tends to lead people from mild symptoms to scary and unlikely conditions, which can cause unnecessary anxiety and stress.” See, Google Blog I’m Feeling Yucky 🙁 Searching for symptoms on Google.
To try to help people find better medical advice on the Internet, Google is changing the way search results for medical symptoms are delivered. The company partnered with Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic to provide better search results when people try to self-diagnose using Google.
Google said, “We worked with a team of medical doctors to carefully review the individual symptom information, and experts at Harvard Medical School and Mayo Clinic evaluated related conditions for a representative sample of searches to help improve the lists we show.”
When you search for medical symptoms, Google will show you cards of possible related symptoms and possible diagnoses. You can also see how common each diagnosis is, based on the described symptoms.
This feature is rolling out to users in the US in English. Google plans to expand the services to other countries and other languages in the future. You may be able to first see the Google health cards on the Google app for your Android and iPhone before they appear on the Google website.
See, Medical Daily The Top Google Health Searches Of The Last 4 Years And How They’ve Changed
Even with Google’s new health cards, misdiagnosing a medical condition is possible, if not probable. According to Google, “symptom search (like all medical information on Google) is intended for informational purposes only, and you should always consult a doctor for medical advice.”
Seeing a long list of possible medical conditions you might have can actually cause stress and result in cyberchondria. According to Wikipedia, “Cyberchondria is a growing concern among many healthcare practitioners as patients can now research any and all symptoms of a rare disease, illness or condition, and manifest a state of medical anxiety.”
People can be misled into believing that they have an untreatable, fatal disease or alternatively can delay getting proper treatment because they don’t believe their condition is serious. See, Yahoo, 15 Signs You’re a Cyberchondriac
Stories abound about people mistaking one medical condition for another on the Internet. People can be convinced incorrectly that they have little time left on this Earth based on online research about their medical condition. See, CBS News The hazards of self-diagnosis on the Internet
But not all medical diagnoses on the Internet are horror stories. One mother was able to correctly determine her son’s medical condition by using the Internet, when doctors had failed to do so. The boy was told by doctors that he had a nervous system malfunction when he actually had a malformation of the joint that connects the skull and spine. See Independent, Mother’s helps cure son’s misdiagnosed illness through internet research
Other resources to check health symptoms online:
- MedLine Plus from the US Library of Medicine
- UK National Health Service
- Mayo Clinic Symptom Checker
- WebMD Symptom Checker
This infographic illustrates the problems with cyberchondria and self-diagnosing on the Internet:
Have you ever used the Internet for a medical diagnosis? How did that turn out? Vote in The Wonder of Tech poll:
Have you ever checked your health symptoms online? Do you think it’s possible to get an accurate diagnosis with an Internet search? Have you ever panicked at seeing medical search results?
Share your thoughts in the Comments section below!
* Heart Puzzle image (edited) courtesy of Geralt via Pixabay and Creative Commons