Friday, November 10, 2006

Googling For A Diagnosis

This morning while I was getting ready for work I heard a brief snippet about searching Google for medical answers and I reminded myself to find out more when I got into work. So when I log into my computer what do I see, at least four emails right off the bat about this issue. I guess that is the beauty of Medlib-l, when some of us are sleeping, librarians in other parts of the world have their ears open and are sharing the information.

The article in BMJ "Googling for a diagnosis--use of Google as a diagnostic aid: internet based study" (free, so far) had doctors search in Google for the correct diagnosis to 26 cases. Google brought up the correct diagnosis only 58% of the time. The article also states,
"Clinical decision support programs have been reported to be valulable aids in diagnosing difficult cases...... We think Google is likely to be a useful aid in diagnosis too. It has the advantage of being easier to use and freely available on the internet."

What, What, WHAT?!?!?!?!?

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! Well with those stellar odds and the doctors' perceived satisfaction why are we even bothering plunking down big bucks for clinical decision tools? That's it I am getting rid of UpToDate and telling my doctors to use Google, after gets the right hit a whopping 58% of the time which is great....if you are a baseball player!

I am not anti-Google, I use it to find the answers to some bizarre or tricky questions/searches. If I am striking out with traditional and more reliable databases and methods, Google might point me in the right direction. HOWEVER, I use that information I found in Google and then re-run my search in the appropriate medical databases. I don't use it as the method by which to gather all medical information, as one might if they were using it as a clinicial decision support tool.

Like it or not, Google is not going away and as a librarian on the Medlib email list said, "Whatever we think, it does impact the way we teach our patrons and provide reference." I guess we need to really start brushing up our teaching techniques because not teaching how to use Google (as is the case with some libraries because they want to support the use of Medline) ain't cutting it. They are using it anyway and they are thinking they are the Albert Pujols of medicine with a slugging percentage over .500.


At 6:28 PM, Ward Merkeley,M.D. said...

There might be more to this than you think. You should give it a try with some signs and symptoms. You might be surprised at the article referenced. Emedicine is not a light weight when it comes to medical references.

At 6:05 AM, Dean Giustini said...

Hi Michelle,

I had media asking me today about the study. I think we need to be less reactionary about studies like this; perhaps you and I should do an evidence based critique and put the fears to rest.

I heard the news too, but I focused on the size, speed and power of Google. Do these aspects of the search engine compensate for its poor reputation among health librarians? Google points to a lot of evidence, doesn't it? Try here.


At 8:40 PM, Ms. OPL said...

It would have been nice if they had looked at the results of having the Google search done by a -- heavens forbid -- A MEDICAL LIBRARIAN! Also, compared to a LIBRARIAN searching the fee-based services.

At 10:50 PM, Ward Merkeley,M.D. said...

There continues to be alot of discussion in the BMJ about googling for a diagnosis. When google walks into a room, people look up and have lots of different reactions and thoughts.
Using the internet for medical purposes is rapidly evolving. Many professional are using it in novel ways or just trying it out.
Using the internet as a source for medical information in developing countries with no medical libraries or textbooks is
going to be huge.
Just imagine having a database of standard xrays and MRI for radiology students to look at.
The attitudes about using the internet will always be relative. If you are working in a large emergency room and have a question, you might call one of the attending about tularemia details, but if your in a very very small community in Spain working, you might find a link to the internet priceless?

Ward Merkeley,M.D.

P.S. I would not have made it thru medical if it were not for great Medical Librarians.


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The Krafty Librarian has been a medical librarian since 1998. She is currently the medical librarian for a hospital system in Ohio. You can email her at: