Google Finds Correct Diagnosis in 58 % of Cases Published in NEJM

According to a BMJ study, Google searches revealed the correct diagnosis in 58% of cases published in the case records of the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005. In each of the 26 cases studied, researchers selected 3-5 terms from each case and did a Google search without knowing the correct diagnoses.

In conclusion, "the use of web based searching may help doctors to diagnose difficult cases."

Hmm... I use Google multiple times every day but, in its current form at least, I am not sure sure I will let any search engine (which basically relies on "wisdom of crowds") to be my trusted diagnostic adviser.

Dr. Charles ran a few sample searches and was not very convinced either.

The Krafty Librarian points out that, "first, the authors just stated that Google only displayed results to the correct diagnosis 58% of the time, and now the they are ready to use it as a clinical decision tool! Those odds are slightly better than flipping a coin!"

"This is research?", asks one of the rapid responses, "I am amazed by the publication of this article. As a regular reviewer for numerous journals, this article would never have seen the light of day. The results actually show an extremely poor correct diagnostic rate even with trained personnel to filter and process the information. As doctors we would never accept the same level of diagnostic accuracy of a colleague. I am shocked that this has been published by the BMJ."

By the way, by naming their paper "Googling for a diagnosis" the authors violated one of Google "rules" which advises strongly against using the name of the search engine as a verb, e.g. googling.

I have covered the use of Google in medicine at length before -- you can review it here.

Googling for a diagnosis--use of Google as a diagnostic aid: internet based study. BMJ.
Googling For A Diagnosis. The Krafty Librarian.
Is Google The Fastest Diagnostician On the Planet? UBC Academic Search - Google Scholar Blog.
This is research? BMJ. T C Winthrop.
Google 'aids doctors' diagnoses. BBC.
Attention: Paging Dr. Google! Dr. Charles.
Do you "Google?" Google Blog.
Google in Medicine
Adam Bosworth, Vice President of Engineering at Google Inc. covered similar topics in: How do you know you're getting the best care possible?
Google now wants to diagnose your disease, offers differential diagnosis based on 10 sites and Wikipedia

Image source: Doctors Using Google by Philipp Lenssen, used with permission


  1. Hi Ves,
    Good post. I've been amused at the consternation the BMJ article on Google diagnosing has caused.

    Imagine this scenario:

    "A doctor types in stomach cramps, bloating, and tender abdomen and gets this list. It takes .21 seconds. Within another ten seconds, he is able to find a list of symptoms related to a hunch he has that this patient might be suffering from diverticulitis. Within another few minutes, UpToDate, Clinical Evidence and FirstConsult led the physician to point-of-care information."

    I see Google's role in this process as expediting the process into the best evidence, not replacing the tools that provide it.

    cheers! and thanks for listening

  2. To be fair, Google is fine with using Google as a verb for using their engine--just not anyone else's!