The Checkup: Docs Use Google to Make Diagnoses

Let's just hope they're not looking at Wikipedia.

This is kinda disturbing: Forty-six percent of doctors who participated in a recent survey said they frequently use Google and Yahoo to help diagnose, treat and care for patients. At first blush, maybe it doesn’t seem too offensive—doctors from the days of yore consulted books and things, right? But at the risk of sounding like my grandmother: Have you seen all the stuff on the Internet these days? There are photos. There are blog posts. There are blog posts from people who think they know what they’re talking about, but don’t. There are videos, including ones ironically involving cats. And there are—oh, boy—Wikipedia entries. Sixty-three percent of doctors report that they’ve actually changed a diagnosis after performing a web search. And 42 percent says they’ve used WebMD (!!) to make sense of symptoms and determine treatment plans. Have you ever WebMD’d anything? No matter what you type in, it pretty much always leads to the same conclusion: that you’re dying. God help us all.

• Speaking of computers, researchers in the UK came up with an algorithm that can crunch symptoms and assess risk factors to figure out if a person is at a particularly high risk of developing gastroesophageal or lung cancer. The web-based calculator, designed to be used by doctors, could lead to earlier diagnoses—and, hopefully, more lives saved.

• To round out our computer-centric headlines today, let’s talk social media for a sec, okay? A recent Temple University study found that frequent texts and information distilled over Facebook can be useful in helping people lose weight. One of the study subjects, who received reminders and tips via both avenues, lost 28 pounds in eight weeks. Not too shabby.