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Doctor Google To The OR Please

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The British Medical Journal published a research paper on the benefits of using Google for researching medical conditions, but anyone who has been reading Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ blog since March already knew this.

Doctor Google To The OR Please
Is The Google Doctor In The House?

I wonder how much time and expense the Australian researchers who discovered a search on Google could benefit doctors would have been saved had they simply added the thoughts of a cartoonist to their RSS feed readers earlier in 2006. More importantly, will the British Medical Journal receive the kind of nastygrams that journalists receive for using the term Googling in an article?

Probably not, since it’s clear Hangwi Tang and Jennifer Hwee Kwoon Ng of Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane meant the Google search engine. They set out to determine if Google could lead doctors to a correct diagnosis, given a set of symptoms.

Out of 26 cases they selected from the 2005 New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers found that Google could have led doctors to the correct diagnosis in 15 of those cases. That was good enough for a 58 percent rate of success.

“The use of web based searching may help doctors to diagnose difficult cases,” the researchers noted in conclusion. But if they had been following along with Adams’ voice problems and how Google saved him, they would know this already.

Adams posted in 2006 how a baffling voice problem left him unable to speak above a whisper in one on one conversations. He also suffered from an equally strange hand problem when trying to draw on paper.

A string of doctors were unable to help him until Google came to the rescue:

I dried off and Googled “dystonia” – the name for my hand problem, plus “voice.” Bingo. There’s a rare neurological condition called a spasmodic dysphonia with voice symptoms identical to mine….There’s even a propensity for this condition to pair with another dystonia, like the one in my hand.

Eventually, as the medical protocol worked its way out, I found my way to a neurologist who specializes in my alleged rare neurological disorder. She listened to me for about 30 seconds and said essentially “Yup. That’s it.” Google was right. The good news is that I wasn’t nuts. The better news is that there is a well-established treatment. The bad news is that the treatment is not fun.


I’ll spare our readers who may be lingering over this article while enjoying one for the road, Pop Tarts, or afternoon tea depending on your time zone the details about the treatment. Just follow the link above to the Dilbert Blog to learn more.

Now all we have to worry about is if Google will start charging us a co-pay if we start using it regularly for researching illnesses. (We’re going to guess ‘no’ here.)


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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

Doctor Google To The OR Please
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