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Doctors Seeing a Rise In "Google-itis" 368

Posted by samzenpus
from the sounds-like-rickets-to-me dept.
It's one of the fastest-growing health issues that doctors now face: "Google-itis." Everyone from concerned mothers to businessmen on their lunch break are typing in symptoms and coming up with rare diseases or just plain wrong information. Many doctors are bringing computers into examination rooms now so they can search along with patients to alleviate their fears. "I'm not looking for a relationship where the patient accepts my word as the gospel truth," says Dr. James Valek. "I just feel the Internet brings so much misinformation to the (exam) room that we have to fight through all that before we can get to the problem at hand."

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Doctors Seeing a Rise In "Google-itis"

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  • by StikyPad (445176) on Monday May 17, 2010 @02:40PM (#32241648) Homepage

    I'll start. My wife had intense abdominal pains which her GP diagnosed as an intestinal blockage, and prescribed liquids, laxatives, and rest.

    When she didn't get better, she "Googled" her symptoms, and found that the birth control Yaz had been linked to gallbladder issues, which fit the symptoms. She told her GP -- who had never heard of these side effects -- and had her liver enzymes checked. Sure enough, they were below average. My wife was scheduled for a ($20k) liver function test, and simultaneously taken off Yaz. The symptoms subsequently disappeared, enzyme levels returned to normal, and she opted not to get the test.

    Now this may well be a coincidence, as I myself have pointed out, but if it wasn't, it's a clear case where Google-itis saved us 20 grand, since she never would have had the idea to stop taking Yaz if she hadn't found similar cases online.

  • by GreatDrok (684119) on Monday May 17, 2010 @02:46PM (#32241774) Journal

    True story - I woke up one morning and my eyes were both full of floating debris and this circular ring. Also there were lots of flashes in my eye. None of this is a good sign so I googled the symptoms and it said I likely had a detached retina and I should go to hospital immediately. I did, and yes, both retinas had significant rips and needed multiple laser treatments, a couple of vitrectomies and a membranectomy before I was given the all clear. The morning I presented the doctor told me that it was very good that I had come in so quickly because it could quickly have deteriorated to a stage where it wouldn't have been repairable.

    Of course, my symptoms were pretty obvious and I had an idea what it was before I even started looking but the first hit said 'go to hospital. Now'. Very good advice. I wonder how often the opposite is true and people use Google and find that it suggests it is nothing to worry about and they don't go to the doctor? My guess is that is rather rare compared with the hypochondriacs who have nothing wrong with them.

  • Google-itis (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mattack2 (1165421) on Monday May 17, 2010 @02:49PM (#32241844)

    It's a contagious form of medical student disease.

    Even though they have textbooks, apparently they do the same thing. (...or at least it's been shown on a whole bunch of medical shows.)

  • by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Monday May 17, 2010 @02:53PM (#32241934)
    Actually, a whole bunch -- http://blog.openmedicine.ca/node/223 [openmedicine.ca] . Given the rising cost of health care, this will certainly be a growth industry.
  • Re:Hypochondria? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RingDev (879105) on Monday May 17, 2010 @02:53PM (#32241938) Homepage Journal

    In a world filled with perfect Doctors, I would agree with you. But in today's world of general practitioners who spend as little time with their patients as possible, individuals must take some amount of the research on to themselves.

    My wife for example, is extremely flexible, to the point of being able to touch her fore-arm with her thumb on the same hand, dislocating joints, and other non-normal flexibility issues. She asked her doctor about it and got the basic "Is it causing you pain? No? Ignore it." But while researching another medical condition that she had been diagnosed with, she came across a reference to a genetic disease that causes this type of flexibility. She talked to her mother about it, 60 years old and still quite limber. She talked to her grandmother about it, 90 years old and she can still touch her toes with out bending her knees and join her hands behind her back (one over the shoulder, one under). It was pretty clear that the female side of her family was carrying this trait.

    So next time she went to see her doctor, she mentioned the disease and the family history, the doc laughed and told her to leave the diagnosis to the "pros".

    A month later when she was going to her new patient exam with her new general practitioner, she brought up the disease and family history. The doc listened, ordered some tests, and discovered that she did indeed have the disease. And it altered the treatment of her other condition.

    So I'm just saying, even a good general practitioner won't be able to suss out all of your ailments if they are trying to diagnose you based on a 5 minute interview and what's in your chart. But if you point out some of the research you've done, even if they don't take you at your word, it can be enough to make them want to investigate that same avenue.

    -Rick

  • I googled my itis. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Delusion_ (56114) on Monday May 17, 2010 @02:56PM (#32241990) Homepage

    Turned out to be bursitis. To be fair, I didn't really google it but went to webmd so I didn't end up in hypochondriac hell. It was very specific about every symptom I had (swollen elbow, the sort of pain, the warmness), and it gave me a reasonable diagnosis (don't mess with it, use the body part as little as possible, see a doctor if it doesn't stop being swollen in about two weeks). It saved me a doctor's visit, but more importantly, it gave me peace of mind.

    I'm very well aware that sites like those, particularly online versions of the DSM IV, are hellholes for developing hypochondriacs, but when used responsibly with reasonable expectations, sites that are more professional in tone can be very useful. And if you don't like what you read, or it gets worse, well, you get to make the call about going to the doctor instead.

  • Information is bad (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 17, 2010 @03:04PM (#32242152)

    Information is bad, leave it to the specialist!

    I've been diagnosed with ADD, went to the neurologist to talk if I should take any drugs. The guy prescribes me something, I google the medication before buying, and it was some hardcore anti-seizure drug with a lot of bad side effects. Went to another doctor, and he said WTF. Google saved me money and my health.

    Most of the doctors I have met, love when pacients look up to them and trust every single word they say. And they hate it when people try inform themselves.

  • Re:Hypochondria? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kell Bengal (711123) on Monday May 17, 2010 @03:06PM (#32242210)
    It's a good point. I've had a similar experience. I was told by my doctor that I had an incurable condition and would require expensive medication semi-regularly for the rest of my life. I immediately set out to learn more about the illness and upon doing further research I noted that some things didn't quite add up. I insisted on extra tests (just to be sure, doc) and sure enough they came back negative.

    Now, a bit of internet reading won't make me an expert, but during my consultation it allowed me to be an active participant and not just a recipient of diagnosis from on high.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday May 17, 2010 @03:10PM (#32242284) Homepage

    you can.

    you can easily learn medicine, you just cant practice legally.

    I personally am interested in pharmaceuticals and discovered that contrary to the line of bull big pharma gives us, hard powder pills do NOT drop in potency even 10 years later when stored properly. your old perkadan and Darvoset pills from 10 years ago are still highly potent. and generic low strength Anti-biotics are just as effective years later.

    How did I test? the same way they do. Pitri dishes with a growth medium and a incubator. I innoculate the dishes and grow colonies, then innoculate the dishes with a measured dose of fresh and over 10 year old of the exact same antibiotic.... Penicillin. then count the colonies left after 48 hours of incubation.

    I saw the same level of kill off. It got me a big A in college for my microbiology project. I can see liquid medicine and liqui-gel pills degrading. but I cant see a hard powder pill degrading when stored right. I'm betting they can go a half century.

  • by dannydawg5 (910769) on Monday May 17, 2010 @03:16PM (#32242418)

    This happened Feb, 2004.

    2 months after finishing college and starting a new job in a new area, I woke up one morning with an odd stomach pain. I didn't think anything of it, so I went to work. By lunch time, the pain did not relax at all. It didn't get worse... just a steady piercing pain. I told a co-worker I was taking a half day. By 5pm, I was starting to get really worried because this was not a normal feeling stomach pain, and it was still there.

    I went to Google and typed in stomach pain, and that's when I was starting to really get worried. Several websites started directing me to Appendicitis. After reading more, I had all the Appendicitis symptoms except "nauseated". I called a friend, and he said, "Nah, man! It's probably just something you ate! You said you aren't feeling nauseated, right? I'd wait until you were nauseated."

    I had crappy insurance. I didn't want to go to the hospital unless I needed to, but since everything I read online was pointing to Appendicitis, I eventually decided that peace of mind was worth an out-of-pocket exam, so I jumped in the car and drove myself to the ER.

    I went to the front desk, and he asked, "What do you think is wrong?"
    I said, "I think I have Appendicitis."
    "All right, fill this out and sit over there."

    When I got to finally see a nurse, I said, "I think I have Appendicitis."
    "Does this hurt?" "Yes."

    When I got to finally a doctor, I said, "I think I have Appendicitis."
    "We'll run some tests."

    They ran a blood test. Came back positive.
    They ran some x-ray type test. Came back positive.

    By 10pm, the doctor came and said, "You have Appendicitis." By 5am, they were operating on me.

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Monday May 17, 2010 @03:18PM (#32242448)

    I came down with the flu, I checked WebMD, it said not to bother going in to doctor unless the symptoms persisted or I became dehydrated. So yes, at least one person has followed the instructions not to go to the doctor.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Monday May 17, 2010 @03:20PM (#32242500)

    I wonder how often the opposite is true and people use Google and find that it suggests it is nothing to worry about and they don't go to the doctor?

    Well, I was playing with my little daughter and suddenly her elbow was in terrible pain. I googled it and decided it was probably Nursemaid's Elbow [uchicago.edu]. I did the suggested treatment (turning her palm up and flexing her elbow) and the ligament snapped back into place, and she was immediately better. A trip to the doctor or hospital would likely have taken the rest of the day and cost a lot of money. Yes, any nurse could have fixed it in two seconds, the problem is getting to see anybody takes hours.

    So in my case, it did prevent us from going to the doctor, and that was a good thing.

    I can see how empowering people is a pain in the butt for doctors and no doubt leads to occasional problems for patients who take too much into their own hands, but, too bad. Tech support has always dealt with ignorant know-it-alls, now doctors must, too.

  • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Monday May 17, 2010 @03:30PM (#32242690)

    I'd had an operation in my neck which was pretty deep in for a nerve tumor.

    After it, I noted intense pains when I was hungry and then after a few months super sensitive skin on my cheek and face on that side. After trial and error, I figured out that the pains came from my salivary glands, so eating hurt, some foods were worse than others. I went to the doctors and they couldn't figure it out, some though it was my jaw, they looked at ear and were talking about breaking my jaw and reseting it.

    I was watching Downfall and reading about the various Nazis on Wikipedia as I watched it, along comes Magda Goebbels and I read about Trigeminal neuralgia. I paused the show and asked my girlfriend to listen to a list of symptoms and tell me if it applies to my condition.

    "The disorder is characterised by episodes of intense facial pain that usually last from a few seconds to several minutes or hours. The episodes of intense pain may occur paroxysmally. To describe the pain sensation, patients may describe a trigger area on the face, so sensitive that touching or even air currents can trigger an episode. It affects lifestyle as it can be triggered by common activities such as eating, talking, shaving and toothbrushing. The attacks are said by those affected to feel like stabbing electric shocks, burning, pressing, crushing, exploding or shooting pain that becomes intractable."

    We emailed my doctor and she had me come in for a face to face, then referred me to someone else and he diagnosed it. Later that year I was accepted for a Medtronics nerve stim which had reduced the pain by 80-90%.

    Without my case of Google and Wiki-itis, I may not have ever been diagnosed.

  • by alangerow (610060) on Monday May 17, 2010 @03:39PM (#32242884)
    When I can get a free estimate from an auto mechanic, but have to pay a specialist just to ask me 10 questions and take my pulse & blood pressure (which I can do for free at most super markets) ... I'm going to Google my symptoms first so see if I can save $100+ from a doctor just telling me "take some aspirin and drink plenty of water." If doctors are so concerned, maybe they should offer preliminary screening services at a competitive price as Google ... free.
  • by CoryD (1813510) on Monday May 17, 2010 @03:40PM (#32242898)
    ..three times. I have gone to doctors over a span of years who have never correctly diagnosed a few issues I have. Always saying it's one thing or another. Well, over the last five years I've diagnosed, presented and suggested treatments for each issue to my present doctor. I have hyperhydrosis of the palms. It's not severe, but it definitely makes shaking hands or trying to open a pickle jar problematic. I had a GP who had never seen this type of issue before, and wanted to schedule me for specialist sessions with both a neurologist and a dermatologist. I told him to let me think about it as I was living paycheck to paycheck at the time, and had cobra health care that wouldn't cover it. Fifteen minutes of searching online gave me an answer to what the issue was. To which I presented to the GP, he looked up, and verified. Which subsequently answered my next problem, dyshidrotic eczema; which randomly affects my hands. Again, not in a severe manner, and isn't noticable unless I were to point it out, but something my GP couldn't identify himself. In the end, both of these were caused by a third issue, an allergic reaction to certain metals in my diet. For each of the issues Google was able to identify, diagnose, and offer treatment plans for. All of which my GP researched after being presented with and acknowledged. If I had gone to the specialists would I have been diagnosed correctly? I'm sure I would have. So does this mean I am as well versed as a specialist over a standard GP? No. But it certainly has saved me cash along the way.
  • Google has its uses (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 17, 2010 @04:02PM (#32243324)

    Google is invaluable for identifying health problems that haven't been around for long enough to have permeated the medical community. For example:

    My wife and I developed a condition where for several days everything we ate/drank had a very strong metallic, sour, soapy aftertaste. Our doctors had absolutely no clue what the cause was. A quick Google search identified the problem as coming from eating oxidized pine nuts. The problem has only begun being reported within the last two or so years (likely as a result of some new cultivation technique or reaction of some new preservative being used), and so is not well known within the medical community.

  • by phorm (591458) on Monday May 17, 2010 @04:06PM (#32243390) Journal

    I went to bed and heard her moaning and groaning in the next room, and figured that she was just having some fun with her BF. When I got up in the morning, I found her in the living room, doubled over in pain, and still moaning (with the useless BF just watching). I called in that I would be late to work, and took her to the hospital/emergency. We waited for a long time in the (empty) waiting room, to see some nurses (and one person who may or may not have been a doctor) who took a quick look at her and came up with the conclusion that as she'd recently had a period they were just menstrual cramps, that she was being overly complaintive, and told me to take her home.

    Luckily we ignored that advice, waited around a bit longer and a doctor who knew what he was doing. After a quick X-ray, it turned out she had an ectopic (sp?) pregnancy. Essentially sperm and egg had met in-tube during her period, and it was then developing in her tubes rather than the uterus. It's a dangerous, and potentially fatal, condition. She was rushed to a bigger hospital, and they were able to take care of things.

    If we had gone home straight off as told, she might have ended up dead or at least severely damaged and/or unable to have children in the future.

  • by bertoelcon (1557907) * <berto.el.con@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Monday May 17, 2010 @04:18PM (#32243642)

    (hint: it's not lupus.)

    Except that one time that it was lupus.

  • Re:Hypochondria? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CapnStank (1283176) on Monday May 17, 2010 @05:40PM (#32245138) Homepage
    I had a sore back and sore throat and went to the local 24hr clinic. They told me I pulled a muscle and that I had a lymph node infection. After taking the medication I broke out in a red polka-dot rash head-to-toe knowing full well I was not allergic to Amoxicillin (bleh spelling). So i booked an appointment with my doctor and he giggled after looking at my rash. Turns out I had mono and the "back pain" was my swollen appendix. The anti-infection medication caused the rash as it occurs when you have mono. He told me a short story about how when he worked in Africa they used it to diagnose mono because of the lack of clean needles for drug tests.

    Rambling aside: 24hr doc could have killed me (Potential appendix burst since I was/am very active in rough sports like Krav Maga/Paintball) but my Doctor actually cared enough to look into things and get the right tests done.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 17, 2010 @06:03PM (#32245486)
    Look, I know you're in the middle of an Internet Tough Guy routine, but you want that sentence in there.

    You see, that little sentence is a warning to other doctors - don't go in this woman's room until you have thirty minutes or so to talk. You might be surprised how many patients have essentially no interest in their diseases. Very few have more than a cursory interest. So if they walk in there, expecting Mrs. Jones to be a typical patient, they'll be rushed. They'll be late to their afternoon clinic. They won't have time to answer her questions. And she won't be happy with them.

    But if they know, they can take the time to sit down and have a discussion. They can go read the chart and re-familiarize themselves with all the minor lab findings. Etc. And she'll be happier for it.

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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