How many times have you Googled your symptoms? According to a 2011 Pew report, looking for health information was the most popular online activity. But is Doctor Google trustworthy?
“Current search engines are doing a good job in answering clearly formulated medical queries,” Guido Zuccon, who studies information retrieval at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, said to Discover Magazine.
However, due to a lack of medical knowledge, people often put inaccurate start terms that often lead to inaccurate information and make them needlessly anxious about diseases they don’t have.
In an earlier study, researchers at Microsoft and UC Berkeley had shown pictures and YouTube videos of 8 medical conditions to subjects then asked them what search terms they would use to describe the symptoms. Zuccon and his team put those terms into both Google and Bing and looked at the top 10 results. Another group of people evaluated how helpful each website was.
On average, only 4 or 5 of the top 10 results were helpful and only about 3 of there were “highly useful for self-diagnosis”. Zuccon said he and other researchers are developing search technologies that will return better and easier-to-understand results for medical searches.
Next time you visit Dr. Google, remember the results you get are very much determined by the terms you put.