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Updated: July 7, 2014 16:44 IST

Let’s ask Dr. Google!

Tanu Kulkarni
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The internet has become the patient’s first friend, say doctors

Headache, fatigue, cramps. Wondering what the symptoms could lead to? “Let’s ask Dr. Google,” seems to be the most popular response among patients.

Doctors in the city say that most patients have been increasingly resorting to surfing the web to research their symptoms and possible treatment, which doctors say has changed the conversation and manner of treatment during the general practitioners visit.

Doctors say that patients now throw a volley of questions at them after reading up their symptoms on the net. Medical Superintendent of Victoria Hospital P.K. Devadas said, “Most patients come to us with a fixed mindset and demand that we prescribe a CT scan or MRI even for minor illness.

They read up the symptoms on the net and look for treatment based on their own diagnosis.

This has changed the traditional relationship between the doctor and the patients.”

He also said while doctors depend on history and diagnosis in the initial stages of treatment and resort to lab investigation only in the later stages, patients now decide on the diagnosis and look for tests and treatment.

“The internet has become the patient’s first friend. A patient needs to completely surrender to the doctor, as we would look at their health condition comprehensively,” Dr. Devadas added.

H. Sudarshan Ballal, Medical Director, Manipal Health Enterprises said that there are both pros and cons of looking at symptoms of various health conditions online.

He said the internet would provide a range of information about a patient’s health condition, which would make the patient more informed about his/her health condition.

“But sometimes, the more the patients read, they would foresee complications and unnecessarily panic about even minor illnesses,” he said.

Citing an example, Dr. Ballal recollected how a patient who had a swelling in the leg came to him thinking that he could have a heart or kidney failure based on the result of an online search.

“Actually, it was just a small doubt that needed simple treatment. Patients need to take the information that they have acquired to the doctor so that it can be interpreted in the right way,” he said.

A study titled ‘Googling for a diagnosis — use of Google as a diagnostic aid: internet based study’ published in PubMed, which analysed 26 cases, revealed that Google searches revealed correct diagnosis in 15 of them.

However, the researchers said that Google searches could less likely reach the correct diagnosis when patients use it and could yield better results when used by a medical expert or a doctor.

However, Poora Agarwal, a patient who has surfed the net several times before a visit to her doctor, says, “I feel empowered when I have information about my health condition so that I can make the most of my visits to the doctor. But I look at specific health journals and reports as looking at random websites may create pointless anxiety,” she said.

Keywords: healthgoogleinternet

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