Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Google vs Doctors - Why Internet self-diagnosis is a bad idea

Google – a storehouse of information for anyone that’s looking. It is like the go-to guy for any sort of query, bringing you information, opinions, ideas and what not. In short, it is an encyclopedia of anything and everything. Lacking in one crucial quality, though – the ability to think. In spite of the advent of Artificial Intelligence that has made today’s computers much smarter, the very human ability of thinking and reasoning is unmatched, something a machine is not capable of, at least now. 

With the universal availability of smartphones, the sheer number of people searching the Internet for information has skyrocketed, along with the quantity of information available online. In all the queries flooding the Internet, medical queries sit somewhere close to the top.

The question, then, is, how reliable is the Internet for the purpose of disease diagnosis? Who scores over the other – the doctor or Google?













Though the web provides meanings of certain technical terms, understanding and analysing medical literature in its true sense is not possible for the average Internet user – someone without a background of structured training in healthcare.

Medicine is a language in itself, and comprehending medical literature involves not only knowledge of technical terms, but a deeper understanding of its finer nuances, such as bio-statics – something that comes only from structured training and experience. In the absence of such a background, a collection of mere words (specialised terminology) will obviously appear meaningless, leading to anxiety, confusion and sometimes, even overconfidence.

And an anxious mind is a veritable door to lack of logical thinking, and arriving at pessimistic, unrealistic conclusions. For example, a person who is already anxious about his headache, going about searching Google for causes, might eventually focus on the most serious cause – a brain tumour, whereas in reality, a migraine might be indicated as more likely.

For reasons stated above, among many other, many sensible doctors themselves do not attempt self-diagnosis. They would rather consult another doctor as they are aware how their own anxiety could cloud their judgement.

The computer, though quite advanced as a tool, cannot replicate the analytical thinking capacity of a trained human mind. A website can generate an algorithm or probability based on its limited access to symptoms; it cannot match intuition (heuristic analysis) and deductive reasoning, the mainstay of professionals.

Another question raises its head frequently –What if the doctor’s treatment is not working?

We should understand that medicine is not an exact science. Not all doctors share similar treatment approaches, and not all patients with the same condition can be treated by the same medication. It would then be sensible to go back and let the doctor know about the apparent lack of response to treatment. It is any day a sensible option compared to Googling symptoms and medications, and ending up becoming more confused.

So, what’s the verdict?
The Internet no doubt is an excellent resource, a tool, to help patients understand procedures that they might be undergoing, for example, cardiac catheterization, colonoscopy, or an MRI scan. However, those with an undiagnosed symptom are better off consulting a qualified medical practitioner, than attempting self-diagnosis through Doctor G – Google. It can save people from coming up with premature, uninformed and erroneous conclusions. 

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