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Doctors told, "Use Google to diagnose"

Forget your GP, his memory can only retain a few million facts -- top researchers are now recommending that doctors use Google to diagnose tricky illnesses

Once a haven for hypochondriacs, the demented and deranged, Google is now being heralded as an essential medical reference tool for doctors. International researchers writing in the British Medical Journal have concluded that Google can provide a quick and accurate diagnosis for many medical problems that have the average doctor flummoxed. The report urges doctors to consult Google when diagnosing cases.

When most people think of the Internet as a medical reference, they imagine a hodgepodge of loosely knit sites run by quack lunatics hell-bent on recommending suspect therapies, such as trepanning to cure the common cold. The truth seems to be rather different. In fact, these researchers from Brisbane University found that Google gave an accurate diagnosis in over half of the 26 most difficult cases.

According to The Independent, the researchers' methods involved typing symptoms straight into Google's search box and then selecting three results from among the top hits. The researchers observed some deficiencies in the articles Google referenced -- sometimes they didn't contain enough specific information. But Life Style Extra claims that doctors "seriously misdiagnose fatal illnesses about 20 per cent of the time". This makes the wealthy but inanimate search engine look like a rather appealing physician.

The researchers say that Google makes a great doctor, and that "in difficult diagnostic cases, it is often useful to Google for a diagnosis".

This is a dramatic turnaround from conventional wisdom, which suggests that the Internet is a hive of misinformation and wild conjecture. You can't help imagining that relatives will feel disconcerted to watch a brain surgeon Googling "brain looks strange" midway through a critical operation. What's next, air traffic controllers Googling plane locations? This is bound to end badly. Do you trust your doctor to Google? -CS