Consulting Google before seeking a medical professional can be helpful for patient and doctor experiences, according to a recent study.
The research published in the Medical Journal of Australia - Dr Google in the ED - found that patients who googled their symptoms before visiting a physician improved the doctor–patient interaction.
“Dr Google” or searching symptoms online, has been a controversial topic in the medical community since the arrival of the Internet.
An earlier report found that conflict was likely to result due to misleading interpretations from patients and sharing views contrary to the physician.
However, the latest research from St Vincent’s Hospital showed that googling symptoms did not cause patients to question the doctor or affect their view of treatment.
Dr Anthony Cocco, a doctor at St. Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, said his study found over three quarters of adult participants who googled their symptoms said it improved their experience at the hospital.
“[The patients] found that searching prior, they were able to ask more informed questions of their doctor, they were able to communicate more effectively and better understand their doctor,” Dr Cocco said.
people were searching about 24 hours before they came in, debunking the myth that people search, panic and immediately present to emergency - Dr Cocco
The study reviewed 400 adult patients in the Emergency Department of St. Vincent's Hospital in early 2017 and found one third googled their symptoms.
According to the research, almost 2 in 3 people in their thirties or younger search before they come in, a number a lot higher than the researchers expected.
However, Dr Nathan Pinskier, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee - eHealth and Practice Systems, said googling symptoms can cause an overall anxiety about an illness.
“Googling symptoms may amplify a patient’s anxieties...nothing beats face-to-face consultations with your GP. It is what we have been trained to do,” said Dr Pinskier.
Dr Cocco agreed but said the positives of these findings outweighed the negatives.
“We found about 40% of people who searched noticed increased anxiety, but this was outweighed by other findings…people were searching about 24 hours before they came in, debunking the myth that people search, panic and immediately present to emergency,” Dr Cocco said.
Dr Pinskier said patients who do access information on the Internet need to be aware of correct sources and outcomes.
“There is no question that patients need to be able to access reliable health information online...they must not dismiss a symptom that may indicate a serious health problem,” Dr Pinskier said.
Moving forward, the research said doctors should acknowledge and discuss health-related internet searches with patients to continue to improve overall experiences in the emergency department.