Search­ing for cure

Shepparton News - Country News - - COUNTRY LIFE -

Ever turned to Dr Google to work out what that pain is and whether it’s go­ing to kill you?

Search en­gines can some­times give more ques­tions than an­swers, but one Aus­tralian study has found they can ac­tu­ally help when it comes time to see a doc­tor.

More than a third of 400 adult pa­tients sur­veyed at two Mel­bourne emer­gency de­part­ments — St Vin­cent’s and Austin Health — said they searched their symp­toms be­fore com­ing to hospital.

Con­trary to per­cep­tions, this could lead peo­ple to ‘‘flood’’ emer­gency de­part­ments with less se­ri­ous health prob­lems. Study coau­thor Dr An­thony Cocco said the prac­tice was gen­er­ally help­ful — as long as pa­tients went to rep­utable sites.

‘‘Re­search­ing al­lows pa­tients to be able to clar­ify and sort out what they’re feel­ing,’’ he said.

‘‘Most no­tably, they were able to ask more in­formed ques­tions of their doc­tors and com­mu­ni­cate more ef­fec­tively.’’

Chest, stomach and back pain as well as headaches were the most com­mon symp­toms searched.

Of the 139 peo­ple who looked up their symp­toms be­fore go­ing to emer­gency, 86 did so more than 24 hours in ad­vance.

Most peo­ple who looked up health is­sues used the top-ranked sites on Google and did not spurn or doubt their prac­ti­tioner’s ad­vice be­cause of what they found, Dr Cocco said.

‘‘I think that would be very re­as­sur­ing for doc­tors.’’

How­ever, some pa­tients (76 of those sur­veyed) agreed look­ing up symp­toms made them wor­ried or anx­ious.

‘‘Ob­vi­ously, any­time you’re un­well you’re a bit anx­ious. Peo­ple com­ing into emer­gency are com­ing in on their worst day,’’ Dr Cocco said.

‘‘But cer­tainly our re­search is not in­di­cat­ing that it’s lead­ing more peo­ple to come into emer­gency.’’

He sug­gested doc­tors ac­knowl­edge and be pre­pared to dis­cuss on­line searches with emer­gency pa­tients.

‘‘A lot of doc­tors are prob­a­bly un­aware of how much this is hap­pen­ing . . . I think we need to be openly com­mu­ni­cat­ing, say­ing to pa­tients ‘have you looked into this?’’’ Well, let’s see . . . A study shows pa­tients’ prac­tice of go­ing on­line for med­i­cal ad­vice is gen­er­ally help­ful.

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