Dr Google: friend or foe?

The Spudd Magazine

The Spudd Magazine

I am an avid self-diagnoser.

I regularly consult my good friend, Dr Google.

Generally, I am not too far off the mark, despite the rolling of eyes I receive from my GP.

I can understand how this might annoy healthcare practitioners. And I did actually have a good giggle while reading the recent satirical news story by The Spudd Magazine, claiming hospitals were rolling out new strategies to save money by replacing trained medical staff with parents who have educated themselves online.

Having said that, our health is our responsibility. And I believe we therefore, should treat it as such.

Shouldn’t we have at least a basic awareness and understanding of what is going on with our bodies?

A parent’s health literacy is associated with internet searching habits and general health information in the home

A study recently published in Appetite revealed that a parent’s health literacy was associated with the use of child weight-loss strategies and general health information in the home.

Parents with low health literacy were less likely to source information from the internet. And those parents with high health literacy were more inclined to search online, and were more likely to endorse recommended weight-loss strategies, and more of them.

Internet experience does not influence online search efficacy and accuracy in solving complex medical issues

Dr Google: friend or foe? © Sciengist

Dr Google: friend or foe? © Sciengist


The statistics from Google reveal that 1 in every 20 online searches is for health-related information.

There are questions, however, regarding the efficacy and accuracy of such search engine self-diagnostics.

An article in the Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making revealed that in solving complex health issues online, internet experience played no impact on performance.

Younger subjects and those with higher cognitive function were likely to use an analytical approach, manipulating keywords. However, the browsing approach fostered by older participants was just as effective, and at times more efficient in solving the complex health issues.

Search engine results are driven by web-page popularity which can skew the online health information bias

Research reported in Information Retrieval warns that our current search engines are not entirely set-up to cope with the growing online trend for self-diagnosis.

Many players at home will input symptoms rather than medical terminology and generally only the first three results returned by the search engine are actually of any use. And we need to keep in mind, web-page popularity drives search engine results.

Pages about serious illnesses are generally more popular than lesser ailments and are therefore more likely to pop up. This could potentially lead to incorrect self-diagnosis and potentially harmful outcomes for human health.

Neurotic people have the lowest levels of an inflammatory and chronic illness biomarker

Although self-diagnosis can be borderline neurotic, research has found neurotic people, generally considered “worriers”, are also high-functioning and organized. And interestingly, neurotics have the lowest levels of Interleukin 6 (IL-6), a biomarker for inflammation and chronic disease.

So perhaps self-diagnosing hypochondriacs are physiologically healthier?

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