It is safe to say that today, the internet is omnipresent in our lives. From using online apps for directions, to registering for classes, renewing licenses, writing exams, ordering pizza and even diagnosing health abnormalities. You are not alone if you “google” what are the possible reasons why you may be experiencing diarrhea, a headache, spotting or even trembling.

Follow up search: What are easy ways to get over these symptoms? Symptoms are the way our body speaks to us, and naturally when anyone speaks to us in a language we are not fluent in, we use Google translate to figure out what it may be trying to tell us.

Dr. Google is like that relative who, despite being well intentioned, seriously needs a briefing in Active Listening. It’s not only Google, but most major search engines today, love to finish your sentences by providing “suggestions” to searches. I type in “headache is a sign of”, and I receive suggestions as varied as pregnancy, COVID, HIV, cancer and labor. Although most people who use search engines regularly are accustomed to their eagerness to finish your sentence, the suggestions that show up are so arbitrary to your actual state, they are, at their best, worth a small chuckle.

The accuracy of medical information online is not guaranteed. In fact, one could describe it as a gamble, or a box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get: A marketing blog about a particular medical treatment, a scientific study with a lot of jargon or a reputable health organization. Search engines use web “crawlers” that scour websites for the presence of search words and rank the sites based on their occurrence, popularity and how often new content is added, not accuracy. In fact, accuracy is not even on the list of ranking criteria. Even if online medical information is accurate, it can be taken out of context by the writer or even by the reader.

Searching what symptoms mean online can very easily lead to mistranslation and dismissing the symptom as something minor when it really needs further investigation and testing and then treatment

According to Dr. Sakina Dinani Chief Medical Physician at Synergy Health Advisors in New Jersey,

“Diagnosis is not the outcome of an algorithm. It’s a clinical deduction that’s made based on years of clinical education and experience shaped by the individual physician’s ability to know the nuances of illness and wellness. Google is an algorithm, and does not compare in the least.”

There is a lot of context and experience needed to diagnose why a symptom is occuring, and over and above context, diagnostic tests need to be done to see what is actually happening inside the body.” Translating symptoms is not as easy as Google translate.

Internet medical self-diagnosing is a great argument to why we need physicians. In-person, live physician council addresses what internet research by a lay person cannot. A physician, especially a physician that you see regularly and that knows your history, is able to piece the puzzle pieces of your abnormal symptoms together to make sense out of what is really going on. In addition, your physician will usually supplement their first analysis of the issue with different diagnostic tests: Blood tests, body scans (MRI, CAT scans) and even allergy tests, ultra sounds, biopsies or X-rays. A physician also knows what tests would give more necessary information on what is going on, and what would be superfluous, so as not to waste a patient’s time and money.

However, the net can still be a useful tool for patients, not in self diagnosis, but in empowering patients with accurate information about their particular condition and treatment. Once a physician has been consulted and a patient’s symptoms have been understood and diagnosed, consulting the internet is a great way to better understand the diagnosis and prescribed treatment. Once you know what the problem is, and you know what you are looking for, the search becomes a lot less random. However, just because you know what you are looking for does not mean you have escaped the pitfalls of finding inaccurate medical information. Patients must be armed with safe sites to consult, sites that provide accurate and trusted information about conditions and treatments. Dr. Dinani recommends her patients “to make sure they know how to choose credible sources, and if you do “Google”, be ready to have options not diagnoses. Diagnoses are not educated guesses, they are clinical deductions made based on years of experience and education. So “Google” away, but be sure to discuss your findings with your physician, so they can help you filter out the noise.” 

The following four sites have accurate and reliable information to consult to gain further understanding of conditions and treatments after consulting a physician. 

  3. Family
  4. HeartHub

At Synergy Health in New Jersey, we know the first hand benefits of having a physician by your side. At Synergy, our professionally licensed medical team provides personalized care, beginning with getting to know patients through in depth consultation, understanding their family medical histories, personal medical journeys and their own unique circumstances and lifestyles. Physicians work one on one with our patients to craft healthy habits that fit the patient’s unique lifestyle and optimize their wellbeing to prevent disease and sudden medical emergencies.