It may not come as a surprise but as a doctors I use Google quite a bit. There are of course other alternative search engines; “Just Google it” has been adopted into our lexicon, whilst “DuckDuckGo it” or “Dogpile it” doesn’t have the same ring, although some would argue they are better. But getting back to the topic.
During a consultation, I may turn to my computer and search Google for a picture to illustrate a point, for example, I think you have measles – see here is a picture of the rash in question. My consulting room is set up so we can both see the computer screen. That makes it hard to surreptitiously do a quick search as you talk. Don’t ask what happens when the computer isn’t working! My doodles are not art, but I do have books!
When it comes to making a diagnosis, I haven’t yet had to enter “headache, fever, rash and cold hands”, well at least not in front of a patient. By the way if you do, you get a screen full of sites suggesting you have meningitis. In fact you get 10 million results. There is a lot of information out there in the Internet. When I was a younger my Mum would probably resort to her nursing text book to work out what was ailing us kids. Life was so much simpler there – books, libraries…
Obviously there will be a lot of duplication of information on the Internet. Some information will be country specific. For example, an American website may suggest taking two acetaminophen for a headache, which translated into Australian is take two paracetamol. Of course, there is nothing wrong at looking at health resources based in other countries. But remember, different countries have different disease prevalence. If you plus headache, fever and rash into a health site based in the Congo you may diagnose yourself with Ebola or Malaria.
The challenge is quickly access reliable and easy to understand medical information that doesn’t lead to a site trying to sell you something, or one that makes unproven claims or is just plain wrong.
If you have seen this image at the bottom of a website, usually right down the bottom, with lots of other small print, it may provide you with some degree of veracity. Health on the Net certification offers a compliance certificate for websites that goes a way to reassure the reliability of the website.
Here are my suggestions for reputable health care information
For general health
Health Direct is a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice. It has links to many other resources. It also has a Symptom Checker Tool (not a real doctor) which when I put it to the test with my headache, fever and rash, did advise I call an ambulance, use a cold compress and lie down quietly. Thankfully, it didn’t tell me I was going to die from meningitis so I didn’t have to panic. Each State Health Department has its own website offering health advise.
The Department Of Health has a webpage which links to a wide variety of health concerns for consumers.
For children’s health problem, here a couple of that are useful, Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service and The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne
For parents try the The Australian Parenting Website
For skin problems, I think Dermnet a great website from New Zealand is very comprehensive.
The Cancer Council which has been around since 1961 providing education and support.
For Men’s health problems, Healthy Male is a good starting point.
Now I could go through each body part and nominate a site to access. For example,
Hearts at The Heart Foundation
Lungs at the Lung Foundation Australia
Bowel and liver at Gastrointestinal Society of Australia
Kidneys at Kidney Health Australia
Eyes at Vision Initiative
Pancreas (okay diabetes) at Diabetes Australia
For infectious diseases, I like to head to the US to look at the Centre for Disease Control website
For information on Mental health problems there are a number of websites. Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute, Sane, and Headspace, just name a few. Head to Head is a Government website that tries to help people through the information overload.
For the health and computer literate, to search medical information on a specific problem, Google Scholar in conjunction with US National Library of Medicine Pubmed, are useful to find journal articles that may be useful.
If you want to test the information found in your search result, you can always see if it has been mentioned in Quack Watch!
Now I haven’t mentioned searching for answering using Web 2.0, where you throw your question or rash photo out to the crowd, hoping that someone will come up with a sensible answer. OMG that’s absolutely syphilis, may not be what you want to hear about the red spot on your hand! I use Web 2.0 a bit when I’m stuck and it has been quite useful. I am connected to doctors through Facebook and Twitter around Australia and the world.
So for your next consultation, come along better prepared, use Google by all means for I may learn something too.