With the wealth of information available online these days, it seems like suddenly everyone is a doctor. This can be problematic for doctors who believe that this knowledge should only be delivered under a physician’s care, but the truth of the matter is this: Google is the largest search engine in the world, and patients everywhere are utilizing it to educate themselves, find support, and make better health decisions.
The Pew Research Center looked at human behavior when faced with a medical issue and found that over a third of adults in the U.S. turned to the internet to research symptoms or to figure out what condition they might have.
These “online diagnosers” had their diagnosis confirmed by doctors 41% of the time, with 35% of them not visiting a clinic or a doctor at all to get a diagnosis. Because 60% of all people in the U.S. have smartphones and 64% of those smartphone users are using them to research medical information, it stands to reason that accurate, thorough information online should become a useful and accessible part of the medical landscape.
Google has responded to this by revamping the ways in which they offer information on conditions, symptoms, and treatments.
In the first two months of 2015, Google took steps to become more of a comprehensive reference for medical searches, expanding their database to include over 400 conditions. Google’s vice president in charge of search, Amit Singhal, says their goal is singular:
“[Google is] hoping to provide a framework for a more informed conversation with your doctor.”
treatments. This Knowledge Graph is meant to give an overview of the condition so that patients can be more informed and proactive when they meet with their doctor. Seven months later, Google added to this already substantial database, more than doubling the number of conditions and diseases to 900.
Google is quick to point out that this information is compiled in consultation with medical doctors, specialists, and researchers.
Although searching online and self-diagnosing is becoming increasingly common, nothing can replace face-to-face dialogue with a trained professional who knows your family history and is able to access their own wealth of experience along with textbook knowledge and training.
Online searches aren’t all about finding symptoms, diagnosing the condition, and self-prescribing treatment. Often, those who do a Google search are looking for something that may be more valuable in the long-term: connection and support.
For chronic conditions or life-threatening illness, online support groups, forums, and message boards can be a source of inspiration and support that the patient may not experience in real life. Even with the most supportive friends and family, someone with a chronic condition may need to talk to someone who has gone through the same thing. Google can connect people all over the world at all hours of the day or night to provide that support when it is really needed.
Google has also changed the online landscape for caregivers and support systems of people who are struggling with illness.
Kaysee Hyatt is a prime example of how a Google search can change your life. She watched her newborn child struggle with months of developmental delays before getting a diagnosis of perinatal ischemic stroke without any real plan for treatment. She went online and found a support group founded specifically for parents of children who have suffered a stroke.
The change in Kaysee and in her family’s approach to their child’s treatment was profound due in large part to the supportive, caring environment Kaysee found through a simple Google search. Kaysee credits the other families with helping them cope with the diagnosis, saying:
“We would have been lost without that support. It was inspirational to know that even though there’s not a lot of information about pediatric stroke available, there are families who have gotten through it.”
Beyond symptoms and support, Google has continued to offer a health section that can be accessed through the search bar. This section focuses on health issues that circle the globe but can also be customized to your geographic region. There is information on breaking health news, recent research, and new treatments, all readily available in one place.
So what does Google’s investment in medicine mean to chronic pain patients?
Information is more current and focused
By dividing their information into sections (e.g., health), Google has made accessing the latest information on medical news easy. Because there is so much general information online, searching for something specific can be overwhelming. The organization of Google’s site helps to keep results focused and relevant.
For chronic pain patients who want information on new developments in chronic pain, setting a Google alert with relevant search terms can even send the information directly to their inbox.
Information is simpler and easier to understand
Instead of combing through thousands of website descriptions to get to a site that is clear and easy to understand, Google has made accessing information on nearly 1,000 medical conditions as easy as looking at the right hand side of the computer screen. These new search results have a quick synopsis of the condition and how common it is. It also features tabs with symptoms, treatments, and other relevant information. The new Google format for medical searches make understanding a new chronic pain diagnosis simple.
What Google features do you use most often, and which would you like to see expanded?