More credibility for Dr Google?


senior woman googling on tablet

Even a more trustworthy Dr Google does not replace health professional advice, says a leading pharmacist

Yesterday, Google launched a new initiative by which its search results will show “health cards” featuring verified information for more than 900 commonly-searched health conditions for Australian users.

According to Google, its new health feature will “include an outline of the condition, symptoms, diagnosis, and prevalence according to age at the top of search results.

“For some conditions you’ll also see high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators. Once you get this basic info from Google, you should find it easier to do more research on other sites around the web, or know what questions to ask your doctor.”

Google worked with medical professionals to put the cards together.

However the company also points out that these search results are not intended as personal medical advice.

Health stakeholders have welcomed the move, but with some caveats.

“We can’t deny the fact that patients will use Dr Google – they all do,” Samantha Kourtis, managing partner of the 2014 Guild Pharmacy of the Year, Charnwood Capital Chemist in the ACT.

“Dr Google is easily accessible, it’s immediate and it can point you in the right direction. So I don’t see this as a massive disruption to the way patients will look for health information.

“What’s perhaps more worrying is that we’re not educating our communities enough about the risks of causing yourself completely unnecessary angst and anxiety by self-diagnosing.”

Ms Kourtis says pharmacists and doctors can help allay such fears, while recognising that “everybody” does it.

“Our knee-jerk reaction is to say Googling and self-diagnosing is wrong, but that’s not the point. My patients are always coming in and saying, ‘I’ve Googled this – I know I shouldn’t, but I did’. And I see it as our job to remind people they can’t just rely wholesale on Google.

“The pharmacy industry, the pharmaceutical industry and medical practitioners all have a responsibility to educate our patients about this.”

Ms Kourtis also cautions that the initiative is unlikely to stop consumers from accessing and believing less credible sources.

“In some patients using Dr Google can result in them stopping their medicine or self-prescribing medication.

“And it’s not just Google. I recently had to start on a medication, so I joined a Facebook support group for users of that medication, and I am on a daily basis absolutely appalled at what members of this community say and the medical advice they dispense – and that other members take it as gold.”

She encouraged pharmacists to suggest credible websites such as those of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Better Health Channel, Asthma Foundation or Lung Foundation once they have a diagnosis.

Meanwhile, the AMA’s national vice president Dr Tony Bartone told 2GB’s Mark Levy that the move was long-overdue.

“It’s about time that we’ve had this,” he said.

“But what we need to remember is that it’s information only. It’s not a cookie cutter approach to self-diagnosis, and even the manufacturers of this program, the developers, have said that it’s not to be used as anything else other than just a source of information.”

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