Ask Google for a diagnosis

Plenty has been written — both pro and con — about using Google as a source of medical information. People with rare diseases or those who have been ignored by the medical system have found it useful as a way of dealing with their symptoms and of finding others with the same disease. Doctors, meanwhile, find that they get bombarded by inane questions from hypochondriacs who use the Web to convince themselves they have some life-threatening disorder, and others warn that people who turn to the internet for help can often wind up with inaccurate information.

Venture capitalist and polymath Paul Kedrosky, however, points us to another emerging phenomenon — doctors and other health-care professionals using Google to help make a difficult diagnosis. He links to a letter from the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, in which the author describes how a medical researcher typed a list of symptoms and descriptions from a biopsy report — on a child with a skin ailment — into Google and arrived at the correct diagnosis, which was then confirmed by DNA testing. It’s true that the Web is filled with a lot of mis-information, hoaxes and hype — but the right answer is often in there too somewhere.

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