Should you trust Dr. Google with your health problems?

Washington: Turns out, women experiencing symptoms of breast cancer vary in how they value, use and trust ‘Dr. Google’ when making sense of their signs of cancer, a new study has revealed.

The study appeared in the Journal of Health, Risk and Society. Researchers from the University of Surrey, led by Dr Afrodita Marcu, investigated whether women sought health information online when experiencing potential breast cancer symptoms and, if so, whether they found it useful.

The researchers interviewed 27 women, aged between 47 and 67 years old, and found different levels of engagement with the internet for health information that was driven by a range of attitudes and levels of trust.

Some women, particularly those with no formal educational, were found to be less positive about the usefulness of ‘Dr Google’ and were largely against using the internet for health information, claiming that this could lead to misdiagnosis or to unnecessarily worry about what their symptoms might mean.

Researchers also found that women, although open to using the internet for health information, reported feeling overwhelmed by what they found and became reluctant to conduct further searches. The majority of women who experienced such feelings went to see their general practitioner, mostly because they felt that only a health care professional could resolve concerns about their symptoms and provide appropriate answers.

Other women in the study were however confident in looking up information online about their breast changes and used it to interpret and act upon their symptoms. These women did not view online health information as problematic nor did they express mistrust in ‘Dr. Google.’ Some even supplemented the information received from the general practitioner by further investigations on the internet.

“The internet is a valuable source of medical information. However, it also contains a lot of poor quality information or information which cannot be easily interpreted by lay people or applied to an individual situation, so it is not surprising that some people feel they cannot trust it,” said Dr. Afrodita Marcu, of the University of Surrey.

“The way that a person will capitalize on the internet for health purposes depends on many factors, like the nature of their symptoms or their fear about coming across misleading information, so we should not assume that ‘Dr. Google’ is valuable and credible to all,” Marcu added.