Saturday science subject: Diagnosis: Google

— 5:18 PM on November 11, 2006

The favored tool of hypochondriacs worldwide may prove useful to medical professionals, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study says Google searches can give doctors a hand with diagnosing tricky or rare medical conditions.

In each of the 26 cases studied, researchers based at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane selected three to five search terms from each case and did a Google search without knowing the correct diagnoses. . . . They then recorded the three diagnoses that were ranked most prominently and selected the one which seemed most relevant to the signs.

The doctors then compared the results with the correct diagnoses as published in the journal. . . . Google searches found the correct diagnosis in just over half of the cases.

The study concludes that "in difficult diagnostic cases, it is often useful to google for a diagnosis," although the study does add that a successful search requires a "human expert" and that patients would have a harder time trying to diagnose themselves. Nevertheless, the study adds, "Web-based search engines such as Google are becoming the latest tools in clinical medicine, and doctors in training need to become proficient in their use."
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