Consulting Dr. Google—getting medical information online—is making people trust real doctors less. This lack of trust can lead people to delay treatment.
While it's good to be aware of health conditions that can affect you, taking information from the internet is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, awareness is a good thing. On the other hand, searching the internet for answers to our medical questions can lead to all sorts of problems. It's always best to consult your doctor—the real one, not Dr. Google.
However, going to the doctor takes time and effort, while medical information is right at our fingertips. Information from the internet, however, can influence the way we receive information from real-life doctors.
A new study explored how getting medical advice from the internet can affect medical advice in real life. 1,374 parents participated in the study, each of whom had at least one child under the age of 18. Researchers divided the participants into three groups and presented them with information about a child who has had a rash and fever for three days.
The researchers gave the first group internet information about scarlet fever. Scarlet fever is a serious condition whose symptoms include a rash and fever. Without treatment, this disease can progressively worsen, turn into rheumatic fever, and may lead to heart damage. Antibiotics can treat this disease.
The second group received internet information on some of the symptoms of Kawasaki disease. This disease inflames the patient's blood vessels, and the symptoms include a rash and fever as well. Patients need to take anti-inflammatory drugs to treat the disease. Without treatment, the complications can be deadly.
The third group is the control group. Members of the group didn't receive information from the internet. All the participants then found out that a doctor had diagnosed the child with scarlet fever.
Researchers found that 90.5 percent of the first group, who had received information about scarlet fever, agreed with the doctor's diagnosis. 81 percent of the third group, who had received no information from the internet, believed the doctor.
When it came to the second group, however, the level of trust was significantly lower. Only 61.3 percent of the group trusted the doctor's diagnosis. 64.2 percent said that they were going to seek a second opinion.
While knowledge is power, and the internet certainly can help with medical issues, it can sometimes hinder immediate treatment. The findings of the research reveal that finding information online isn't always a good thing. For example, both scarlet fever and Kawasaki disease necessitated immediate treatment, but a significant percentage of participants mistrusted the doctor's diagnosis. If the experiment had been an actual case of scarlet fever, that mistrust would have delayed treatment.
There are symptom checkers and websites that can help people make sense of the symptoms they're feeling. While these checkers and websites make accurate diagnoses some of the time, artificial intelligence doesn't yet have the ability to reason that real doctors do. Next time you check in with Dr. Google when you're under the weather, make sure that you check with an actual doctor as well.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!