Whether it’s a cramp in the stomach, a pull in the back or a buzzing in the head, more and more people are seeking advice from Dr. Google. The world’s most popular search engine already receives more than 1 billion search queries on health-related topics every single day, making it the number one point of contact when it comes to medical questions. But anyone who has ever consulted Dr. Google before knows how difficult it is to find trustworthy information and how easy it is to go down the rabbit hole and be misguided.
Online search instead of doctor’s visit?
Going straight to the family doctor when you have pain or feel sick? That belongs to the past. A survey conducted by the German digital association Bitkom showed that one in two already researches the symptoms online before going to the doctor. Women do this considerably more often (61%) than their male counterparts (45%). The practical thing about Dr. Google and other online health guides: they can provide instant feedback and are available 24/7. Moreover, no health issue is too uncomfortable or intimate, as one can remain anonymous on the internet. But as tempting as it is to Google symptoms, the results in most cases are unreliable.
A recent study from Australia shows that both Dr. Google and most symptom checkers on the market are often wrong in their assessment of conditions. The Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Perth took a closer look at 36 symptom checkers and online health information around the world. The results showed that: only about one-third of the people who consult Google for their symptoms and medical advice actually receive the correct information. In only 36% of the cases did the online search return the correctly diagnosed condition as the first result. In 52% of the cases, the correct diagnosis was among the first three search results.
From hypochondriac to cyberchondriac
Due to the excess of health information and providers online, it is quite easy to get lost. A survey conducted by the Bertelsmann Stiftung looking at the importance of the internet as a source of advice on health-related issues shows: as many as 65% of respondents have difficulty in identifying trustworthy sources on the internet. According to the ECU study, online health guides or symptom checkers lack quality controls, regulations and data security. These are all factors that can make patients feel even more uncertain.
With all the uncertainty, there is a risk that patients will continue to search for explanations and get lost deeper and deeper in the torrent of digital diagnoses. The number of hypochondriacs has increased sharply worldwide with digitalisation. Cyberchondria is the hypochondria of today. Those affected spend hours on the internet searching for illnesses and often receive downright horror diagnoses. A headache becomes a brain tumour, a harmless rash becomes skin cancer – the unfiltered results of possible diagnoses from unreliable sources unsettle and fuel fears.
No substitute, but a useful complement
The search for symptoms on the internet should be treated with caution, as it usually lacks a holistic view of the person and his or her individual situation. The Australian study also states that most websites and apps do not know the patient’s medical history holistically, although it is precisely this background knowledge that is needed to be able to provide better assessments and recommendations.
The results of the studies nevertheless show a clear trend: if implemented properly, digital solutions such as symptom checkers can successfully support modern healthcare systems. They are not intended to replace the doctor, but to complement them in a meaningful way, for example as a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. According to another survey conducted by Bitkom, almost every third person (31%) does not understand the doctor’s explanations. This is why 61% of patients seek a second opinion after a doctor’s visit and mostly choose Dr. Google to do so. If doctors can recommend helpful sources of information for further research, this is an added value for everyone, as a Bertelsmann study from 2018 also showed. The credo is: create healthy synergies between healthcare providers online and offline.
Digital point of contact and trusted advisor
This is exactly the kind of synergy that XUND is about. With our digital health assistant, we help patients better understand their symptoms and connect them with the relevant point-of-treatment in collaboration with other healthcare providers. We know how important it is to know the exact source of information when answering health questions.
As a certified medical device, we not only meet all the regulatory requirements but also guarantee users the appropriate safety of use: every piece of information we use for our medical decision-making algorithms is based on scientific literature and undergoes medical quality control. By utilising artificial intelligence (AI), we can currently analyse and process over 1.8 million medical publications automatically. Our team of doctors then enriches this information once more with experience gained from many years of medical practice.
It is this meaningful collaboration of human and artificial intelligence that allows us to ensure that medical information is put into the right context. In doing so, we can provide a trustworthy alternative to Dr. Google, reducing uncertainty and increasing the understanding of your personal health.
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© 2021 XUND Solutions GmbH
© 2021 XUND Solutions GmbH