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Healthy You

What You Should Know Before You Contact Dr. Google

Monday, October 16, 2017 8:51 AM

Google is not a doctor but it plays one online. 

Picture this: You’re getting muscle cramps that aren’t going away so you do a quick online search to figure out a solution. After a few minutes of diving into health forums and medical sites, you’re convinced you have a heart condition.


Sound familiar?

One in three of us have gone online to figure out a medical condition, either for ourselves or someone else, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study.

It’s easy to understand why. Dr. Google can answer your health questions with a few tap, tap, taps on your keyboard any time, any place. But can you trust the information?

NorthShore Family Medicine Physician Monica Fudala, MD, says she can sympathize with patients who want as much information as they can get when a loved one is sick. And sometimes that knowledge is helpful.

“I just had a couple patients who came in because they read something online and thought they might be dying so I had to calm them down and offer reassurance,” Dr. Fudala said. “And I had another instance where it was actually beneficial because the patient came to me fairly well educated about their condition and was able to ask valuable questions they could not find answers to online.”

Last year, Google reported that roughly 1 percent of the site’s searches were related to medical symptoms. That’s millions!

“Patients should understand that symptom searches are intended for medical information only,” Dr. Fudala said. “It cannot replace medical advice from a physician who can gather much more about your health by seeing and examining you.”

Here are her suggestions when you’re tempted to ask Dr. Google for a diagnosis:

  • Remember that the sites may be giving you wrong information. They may be overly cautious, leading you to seek care when you can stay at home; they can be overly vague, increasing your anxiety; they usually mention the worst-case scenario, which is often not going to happen.
  • Most symptoms for many health issues are similar. You need a physician to help you sort out what is really going on health wise, if anything.
  • Remember you can call your physician. We are always willing to help answer your questions and let you know if you need to be seen.