Google, M.D. In Action - Part II

We already know that googling can prevent unnecessary blood transfusions but this is something else - "Google, M.D." diagnosed the puzzling combination of "rash, adult, fever" without a flinch - with the first hit.

Otherwise it is the same old story again:

1. A patient googles a constellation of symptoms and asks her doctor what are the chances of her having the condition "x".

2. The doctor does not think that this is likely but decides to check a few tests anyway.

3. The test results confirm that the patient is having condition "x".

It makes you think "why don't doctors search Google from the beginning?"

We all know that it takes years to become a doctor, even longer to become a good one, so why does Google outsmart them? Actually, Google per se is not smarter than any physician (or any other person). It just has more information and is working hard to make it "universally accessible". No single person's brain can handle all the information on the "innumerable" Google servers.

In our case the diagnosis was RMSF - Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and the doctor was very honest: "I would have completely missed it if I hadn't listened to you", he told the patient. The patient does not blame her doctor "He didn't miss it. He was the first to think of it. And he sent off the test - even though it could prove him wrong. He just wanted to figure out what was going on. He listened to me. That's exactly the kind of doctor I want."

Dear doctor, next time when you are not sure what is going on, why don't you run a quick Google check? It won't hurt you to have one or two suggestions, no matter how crazy they look initially... Having UpToDate is nice but sometimes (just sometimes) Google offers the best answers. The problem is to differentiate between the false information and the valid suggestions produced by the computer algorithm, and this is where a physician has to step in. The doctors will never loose their job.

Update 3/28/2007:

Adam Bosworth, Vice President of Engineering at Google Inc. covers similar topics in: How do you know you're getting the best care possible?

Sleuthing a Rash - NYTimes
Google, M.D. In Action
Who's your patient's best friend? Google!
Power of Google: A distinguished professor gets shown up by Google - MedPundit, NEJM
Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask - UC Berkeley
Checking medical facts online can be OK, but don't become a "cyberchondriac."
Picture source: Google Blogoscoped by Philipp Lenssen, used with permission


  1. As a patient who is a now little (a lot!) gun-shy when it comes to doctors, I rely on google--and eMedicine--a lot. I'm careful to consider the source though, and I know when I really need to see an MD.

  2. Google functions as a "physician assistant"

    I think PA's do a little better then patients armed with a google search engine.

  3. Someone has already created a customized search called Dr Google that does seem to give better search results for doctors.