DO YOU TRUST DR GOOGLE?
The best information is not always found in Google searches
When it comes to health, Dr Google gets a good work out! It’s so simple to just type, ‘Is it normal…?’, followed by whatever symptom it is that you might have. Even though the internet is a fabulous resource to increase health knowledge, the sources of information vary in quality and unfortunately there is no context to the question. So, can you trust Dr Google? When defining the question, ‘Is it normal?’, it refers to the usual/typical or expected state or condition. But the spectrum of what is expected to be normal or typical among people is very wide, especially through the broad age range of life. Also, people tend to substitute this question for what they actually mean, e.g. ‘Should I worry about …’, or ‘Is there anything bad going on?’. When it comes to assessing your health, doctors use complex clinical reasoning skills and their experience to reach conclusions about the normal state of the body and any possible multiple diseases that may relate to a patient. Therefore, it is not as simple as typing in the symptoms and requesting a yes/no answer. The reasons for various answers must be carefully considered because people often mean different things by their question and a doctor must make a conclusion, using the context of the patient’s age, background health, risks such as smoking, their medications and a host of other factors. So, something that is NOT normal for the rest of the population can still be nothing for an individual to worry about. Also, something that is normal or not worrying in younger populations can be abnormal or worrying in older populations.
CAN TRUSTING DR GOOGLE, GIVE FALSE REASSURANCE?
Rather than seeking false reassurance from the internet, it’s easier to be aware that unusual changes in your body or your
A doctor makes a conclusion using complex clinical reasoning skills & experience.
health should be discussed with a doctor. To do this you should know your body well and what is usual and typical for you.
YOU SHOULD BE AWARE OF:
• your usual bowel habits
• your weight
• any new aches and pains
• how your skin normally looks
• how fit you feel
• your usual energy level and your mood. If there is a change in any of these features, make a note of the pattern and what other symptoms you might have. Women commonly searched terms on Google related to:
• babies. With so many answers available, it helps to know what quality information is available. For example, quality information about developmental milestones, dietary habits, babies’ sleep habits and breastfeeding, can be found on the Raising Children
website. Also, there is good quality information regarding pregnancy on The Women’s website.
Finally, there are symptoms that must be considered abnormal until proven otherwise after discussion with a doctor. These symptoms include:
• new lumps
• heavy, painful periods
• bleeding from the bowel
• unintended weight loss
• persisting sadness or not enjoying your usual activities any persisting new breast symptoms like pain or lumps. So, if you have any of the symptoms listed, visit your doctor to discuss and gain valuable information and prompt treatment if required. Many simple tests can assist the doctor’s diagnosis. This is a service that cannot be offered when you trust Dr Google.
Dr Tammra Warby is a General Practitioner with a PhD, who works at Foxwell Medical. She is on the FRACGP Future Leaders program 2018 and manages chronic disease such as asthma and diabetes, with further qualification in skin cancer surgery. She can be followed on Twitter.