Is Dr. Google Your General Practitioner?

I have a saying around our house: “Stay away from Dr. Google!”


Because, while the internet can be a veritable treasure trove of awesome information, it is also chock-full of MISinformation and mindless drivel.  


I’m not kidding.  Less than thirty seconds ago, just for fun, I typed in a query about a toothache.  Among the suggestions as to the cause?  Brain cancer.  Heart disease.  Angina.  (Among the more obvious cavity or abscess, of course.)


Now.  It may very well be that those conditions manifest as a toothache, likely among other symptoms, in some cases.  But, truly, it is far more likely that such information will lead to needless panic or concern than that it will actually prove helpful.


Google?  Is fabulous.  I use it all the time!  But it will never be my doctor.  I had to physically restrain myself from googling a couple of medical conditions over the past year.  Two of my children had to undergo further testing and screening because doctors suspected more serious conditions.  In both cases?  The worry was relieved when the tests revealed they’re just fine.  After the fact?  I peeked at what Dr. Google had to say and, good heavens, I likely would have lost sleep for weeks had I known!


So that’s my stance: “Stay away from Dr. Google.” 


How about you?  Is Dr. Google your GP or do you prefer to see a real life doctor, nurse, natural medicine specialist, etc.?


(For the record, I feel the same way about the phrase, “All you have to do is google ‘…..’ and you’ll see that…”.  To me?  That doesn’t answer or prove anything. :))


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15 comments to Is Dr. Google Your General Practitioner?

  • I am guilty for using Dr. Google way too often. I got a rash all over my body and guess what I looked up? Flesh eating disease! Turns out i just have an allergic reaction {to who know’s what} ;). The Internet is awesome but when it comes to medical advice, it just offers more worries than answers.

    • Laundry detergent, maybe? (<– see, that's me, untrained lady, playing Dr. Google :D) Hope it all cleared up for you and very relieved that you do NOT have a flesh-eating disease, my friend!

  • Marci

    I have to disagree…but only slightly. When we were going through a lot of medical “fun” (read, trying to figure out if something was wrong with my son our not), we went to various specialists. The first said that he couldn’t possibly have any syndromes (including Sturge-Weber). The second confirmed that he did in fact have Sturge-Weber syndrome and the first specialist didn’t know what she was talking about. Enter the Internet. Upon much research on different medical sites, I determined that my son did not in fact have Sturge-Weber. I made a consultation appointment with my pediatrician (who read my information and agreed with me). We then went to yet another specialist (this one a genetic specialist) who determined that my son was perfectly normal, with a LOT of port wine birthmarks. Anyway, had I not had the internet, I would not have been able to get the information that I needed to get things moving. My pediatrician hadn’t even received the information from the second specialist when I went in to see him. So, I think sometimes the Internet can be helpful…but it is by no means the only method one should use. :-)

    • Oh, absolutely! The internet can be amazingly helpful. And I totally support the idea of seeking more information about a condition or diagnosis that’s been given. I just hate to see people get all worked up with fear because Dr. Google said they might have a tumor… does that make sense? (So glad that you were able to find the information to determine what was — or, more accurately, was NOT– going on with your son!)

      • Marci

        Yes, absolutely. Or when people use it to tell their doctors why they are wrong or how to do their job. Using it as a tool is good…it is however not a good diagnostic tool. :-) I thought we were probably in agreement with it. :-D

  • I use it, but not to self diagnose. Generally I use it for getting more info after I have a diagnosis. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything weird that I’d try to self diagnose. (I was sure my weird pain was kidney stone, so I didn’t need to search, ha ha). I think that if I did look stuff up I am less apt to freak out about the crazy possibilities and feel sure it’s the obvious.

    • You and I sound very similar, Heather– I have no qualms about seeking out more info AFTER the fact, but I’ve known far too many people who worried needlessly after googling some symptoms. Kind of like your kidney stone situation, I’m to the point where I can recognize the pain of an ovarian cyst. But if I were to do WebMD’s symptom checker? I’d be left with a whole laundry list of things to panic about. No thanks. :)

  • Dr. Google can be right sometimes, but very often contradicts himself. I often check out several sources to see if there is some agreement and if it makes sense or not.

  • I do use Google for help in treating milder symptoms. Like when I had a cold that didn’t go away and lots of sinus congestion, I googled sinus infection and found out about neti pots and how to use them. I also read that I should go to the doctor if my symptoms worsened or I developed a fever. My husband bought me a neti pot, I used it according to the package directions and I recovered without a trip to the doc or antibiotics. Also, I agree with others that it can be useful to look up information after a diagnosis is received. I do look for official sites like the Center for Disease Control and the Mayo Clinic site and WebMD. I usually look at more than one site and am more apt to trust information that is repeated. But I do agree that google should not replace PCP’s.

    • I, too, am far more likely to consult the Mayo Clinic site or the CDC than many others (but after we have a diagnosis). I’m not a fan of WebMD, but that’s just me. :) I think their “symptom checker” can lead to some alarming, and unlikely, concerns. On a totally different note, I’ve heard wonderful things about the neti pot from many, many people and I’m glad it was such a help to you!

  • mlearley

    I frequent a pregnancy board on webmd and the other day a young lady posted a question. Her baby was having the hiccups and she googled it to see if this was normal, the search found that hiccups can mean that the umblical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck thus a still born baby. She had herself totally freaked out. My first baby had the hiccups every single day and this baby has hiccups very frequently so I tried to reassure her but the poor girl was so worked up!

    • Oh goodness! Thank heavens you noticed it and tried to comfort/reassure her! That’s exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about. A quick call to her OB (or, really, a good friend or family member who’d been through a pregnancy) would have been so much more helpful…

  • Mary

    I don’t google, but webmd and mayoclinic are my friends! But mostly to decide if a trip to the doc is warranted. But I’m not really one to obsess about unlikely diagnoses. Except once, when my daughter smelled like syrup for a few weeks. Did you know there’s a metabolic disorder called maple syrup urine disease? Yeah. She doesn’t have it. And she smells normal now. :-)

    • You know, I DID know about that maple syrup urine disease! I remember reading about it some pamphlet they gave me in the hospital right after my son was born. So glad that wasn’t what you were dealing with. (And, as long as she’s healthy, there are definitely worse things to smell like than syrup, right? ;))

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