When a consultation opens with a patient saying, “so I know I shouldn’t have but I went on Google and…” I very gently and subtly clutch the corner of my table. I wait for the ridiculous diagnosis (or list of diagnoses!) the machine has spat at you.

You type in “cough, fever, nasal congestion and sore throat” and get told you have pneumonia. But I’m thinking you have the common cold and will survive this with some rest and fluids.

You type in “lump on bottom, painful” and get told, with no warning mind you, that you likely have bowel cancer. But I know that at 25 you most likely have a haemmoroid – and when I examine you thats what I find, something that this “Dr Google” never does.

I used to find it slightly insulting when a patient came to me with their list of diagnoses form the internet. I’d be thinking “gees so the 6 years I did at medical school, the gruelling internship and training on top of that to be a GP counts for nothing???” – But now, I realise that it’s just a way for you to be involved in your healthcare and perhaps it’s giving you some control when your freaking out about something you’ve found on your body.

A doctor often doesn’t want to know what Google said because it can shape our diagnostic opinion – either make us firm on refusing to agree with the internet or think about things that clearly do not need to be considered. Please know that 99% of the time a human doctor who listens to you, examines you and has a thinking mind is going to be better than a computer. And if you do use the internet take it all with a grain of salt- don’t lose sleep over the cancer diagnosis it spat out at you and please don’t say to me “but Google said…” when I tell you my opinion.

Dr Google may be open at all hours and hear your concerns at 3 in the morning when you’ve noticed a lump. But Dr Google won’t pat you on the shoulder and reassure you it’s not cancer or give you a hug when it is… Just a thought…


Dr Alexander

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