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Self-diagnosis with “Dr Google” usually wrong


By Genevieve Waldie

At the first sign of a new ailment, many of us head off to “Dr Google” to self-diagnose. Health-related searches on the platform have been estimated to approximately 70,000 every minute.

However, short knowledge is a dangerous condition, and research shows “Dr Google” comes up with the wrong answer about 2/3 of the time.

Research from ECU (Edith Cowan University) published in the Medical Journal of Australia, 18 May 2020, analysed 36 international online symptom checkers and found they produced the correct diagnosis as the first result just over a third of the time (36%), and within the top three results about half of the time (52%) of the time.

“We’ve all been guilty of being ‘cyberchondriacs’ and googling at the first sign of a niggle or headache, but the reality is these websites and apps should be viewed very cautiously as they do not look at the whole picture. While it may be tempting to use these tools to find out what may be causing your symptoms, most of the time they are unreliable at best and can be dangerous at worst,” says lead author, ECU Masters student Michella Hill.

While there is a wealth of good quality medical information available online, it’s important to know where and when to look.

“These sites are not a replacement for going to the doctor, but they can be useful in providing more information once you do have an official diagnosis,” she says. 

Use of “Dr Google” is rising at the moment as people are hesitant to go to the hospital or their GP for fear of contacting COVID-19. Fortunately, there is another option for health care queries. Telephone triage services staffed by registered nurses provide quality medical information and advice.

Telephone services for confidential nurse consultation

. 13 HEALTH  (QLD only)
. HealthDirect (national) 1800 022 222

. In case of emergency, always call 000

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