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Web Poor for Medical Diagnoses 2006-11-10

Posted by clype in Gizmo, Health, Statistics.

A team of Australian physicians did web searches of the symptoms of 26 cases for a study in ‘The New England Journal of Medicine’. But only got the right diagnosis in just 15 cases, the paper published on ‘The British Medical Journal‘ website reports.

While physicians carry a huge amount of medical information in their heads, they may need to seek further help if they come up against an unusual case.

‘Unique symptoms’

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 web 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 physicians then compared the results with the correct diagnoses as published in the journal.

  • The web searches found the correct diagnosis in just over half of the cases.

These included (CJD) Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the hormonal condition Cushing’s syndrome and the auto-immune disorder Churg-Strauss syndrome.

The team led by Dr Hangwi Tang, a respiratory and sleep physician, said web searches could be a ‘useful aid’ diagnosing for conditions with unique symptoms and signs that can easily be used as search terms.


But they said a successful search needed a ‘human expert’ user, and therefore patients would have less success trying to diagnose themselves on the Internet. They added:

‘Computers connected to the Internet are now ubiquitous in outpatient clinics and hospital wards.

‘Useful information on even the rarest medical syndromes can now be found and digested within a matter of minutes.

‘Our study suggests that in difficult diagnostic cases, it is often useful to google for a diagnosis.

‘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.’

But Professor Mayur Lakhani, chairman of ‘The Royal College of General Practitioners’, said:

‘The internet is in no way a replacement for “doctors” — their clinical judgement and expertise will always be necessary to make sense of the information.

‘Rather, it should be seen as a way of supporting “doctors” and their patients.’

A spokesman for ‘The Patients Association’ said:

‘”Doctors” have a very wide knowledge when it comes to diagnosing conditions.

‘But we would be concerned if they were using websites to diagnose people, what would happen if they gave the patient the wrong information?

‘Also, a lot of sites are not credible. There are lots of good sites out there, but we also know that there are many that are not credible.’



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