Love Doctor Google? Don’t panic!

Got a strange pain? Funny tum? Weird rash?

Bet we know who you turn to first — Dr Google, of course.

You’re not alone, two-thirds of all patients will search the internet prior to a consultation.

It could even be good for you, a new study reveals today.

Dr Google’s alright

Using the internet to search for health information leads to a better understanding of symptoms and diagnosis, suggests research into the effect of ‘Googling’ on patient behaviour.

Instead of asserting patient paranoia, most people said that looking up symptoms online did not make them more worried — over 80% of 718 study subjects felt no difference in symptoms after the online information search.

Online research didn’t make people apathetic either — around half said they booked an appointment with their GP afterwards. 95% said that having ‘a Google’ didn’t lead them to distrust their GP, and more than half of the respondents had more confidence in their GP after searching online.

GPs also described the positive effects of internet trawling on their consultations: agreeing it did not cause patients to lose confidence in them or to start self-medicating.

“Dr Google has a generally positive contribution to the GP consultation and the doctor–patient relationship,” write the paper’s GP authors from the University of Leuven, Belgium.

What this means for you and your GP

While the recent study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, monitored the actions, behaviour, and feelings of Flemish respondents (aged 18–75), the study rings true of similar studies across Europe.

GPs often overestimate the possible anxiety caused by online searches, say the researchers, and so must adopt a more open attitude toward guiding patients to reliable websites. (If you’re not sure where to look, ask your doctor).

In the UK, The Royal College of General Practitioners confirmed that it encourages patients “to take an active interest in their own health” and that websites such as NHS Choices are useful tools.

However they also warned that “unverified websites may give out misleading, superfluous or incorrect information” causing patients needless worry.

So, in short, next time you’re poorly, feel free to turn to the internet — it could help you have a more positive relationship with your GP.

Just make sure you can trust your sources — Dr Google is a Dr in name only.

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