Googling symptoms has become an inside joke among everyone who’s done it (which is most of us!). Every possible symptom can be associated with a scary, life-threatening condition and a Google search can do little to inform patients about the right next step for their personal situation. But I (and I think most doctors) welcome patients to take control of their health. I completely understand the reflex to whip out your phone or hop online for a quick search – and in reality, patients have a legitimate need for quick and discreet information when it comes to timely health issues and anxieties. The internet is a useful tool for reading about medical conditions but is less useful for diagnosis and treatment. For example, I searched “right breast pain” and saw a plethora of responses all of which were associated with the breast cancer, but breast pain may also be caused by gallstones. Clinicians can analyze this information by taking a detailed medical history.

As a doctor, of course I hope my patients come directly to me for definitive answers, not only as an expert source, but because I understand the components that create the clinical picture. I know what questions to ask (Is the right breast pain exacerbated by eating fried food , etc.?). I can perform a targeted physical exam and order labs/imaging study, as needed, and interpret all of this data to form a diagnosis and treatment plan. With an increase in hospitals and health systems using remote technology, either on the phone or online chat, there are lots of options to reach your doctor quickly.

Use Google search with healthy skepticism, and take that information to your doctor to apply it to your whole-picture health. The best resources for finding reliable information on medical conditions are medical societies such as the American College of Ob/GYN, the American Academy of Dermatology, and the American Academy of Family Physicians, as well as government websites, e.g., Center for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health.

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