Dr. Google Will See You Now

A recent study has found that looking up symptoms on the Internet can actually improve your ability to diagnose illnesses based on their symptoms, without increasing anxiety. The findings fly in the face of commonly-given advice to avoid consulting “Dr. Google” before visiting a real doctor. Doctors have feared that looking up symptoms online may raise anxiety levels, a phenomenon dubbed “cyberchondria.” To investigate, Dr. David Levine of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston recruited 5,000 people and asked them to imagine that someone close to them was experiencing a given set of symptoms. The cases ranged from mild to severe, but all were commonly-experienced conditions, including heart attacks, strokes and viral infections. The researchers found that people were slightly better at diagnosing ailments correctly after performing an Internet search for the corresponding symptoms, but didn’t appear to have any increase in anxiety levels or their ability to correctly select the triage level. “Our work suggests its likely okay to tell our patients to ‘Google it,’" said Levine. The researchers cautioned, however, that the study is limited by having the participants pretend to be diagnosing a loved one, rather than themselves. It remains to be established whether people would behave the same way when experiencing the symptoms themselves and trying to self-diagnose.