Generally, how do you know what to trust on the internet? When it comes to your health, how reliable is the information that you find on the internet? Do you decide what to believe or not to believe? Your health is important and self-diagnosis can be risky. What about all the solutions that are nothing more than a non-professional, health-fanatic’s biased opinion that sounds like a miracle in the making? How serious is your condition? Something situations can appear to be one thing, but the truth is, it might be something that is more serious or even less serious. This article wades in to the depths of on-line medicine and how Google is approaching it. Be sure to read the full article and then give us some or your feedback in the comments section below the article.
Let’s be honest: Healthcare on the internet still doesn’t work.
Two decades since the dawn of the web, you’d think the best tool ever invented for connecting people with information—and each other—would offer better ways to practice medicine. Instead, a Google search for nearly any health issue results in a cascade of SEO-optimized link bait—symptom lists and forums presided over by the uninformed. Instead of internet medicine, we have cyber-chondria.
Now, Google is trying out a new tool that could finally offer a direct online connection to legitimate medical advice. Some symptom-searchers will get the chance to video-chat with a live, degree-having doctor about their issues. If it works, it could provide a path out of the tangle of misinformation saturates so many sites. More than anything, however, the experiment highlights just how hard it is to do real medicine on the internet.
“When you’re searching for basic health information—from conditions like insomnia or food poisoning—our goal is provide you with the most helpful information available,” Google told Gizmodo. “We’re trying this new feature to see if it’s useful to people.”
The key concept in Google’s statement is “the most helpful information available.” It’s a tacit acknowledgement that most searches for symptoms and ailments on Google result in information that’s not that useful. And for Google, that’s a problem. People aren’t about to stop Googling for “vague tingling in my left arm” anytime soon. But over time, users will start turning to other sites that show they can do a better job at telling you whether that tingling means you just need to take a typing break or drop everything and go to the ER because you’re having a heart attack.
The lack of good health care options on the internet is in part a consequence of the sheer complexity of connecting so many pieces (doctors, patients, insurers, regulators) and addressing so many issues (privacy, quality, liability, affordability) all at once. Eventually, tech companies will figure out the limits of what works in online medicine, though the process is already taking eons on the super-compressed time scale of internet. One limit, however, is already self-evident: To do medicine well, doctors often have to be able to reach out and touch someone for real.
Does the free advice that you get on-line outweigh the educated advice that you can get from a qualified health care professional? Really, how serious are those cold and flu symptoms? What if it’s serious and you get really sick? But what if it’s just a common cold or flu that will go away if you take care of yourself at home. It’s a big question that is being fueled by big media right now. Does all the talk on TV and radio increase your anxiety about getting a serious infection? Well consider your options and how you really feel. Does your anxiety come from reading too many horror stories on-line or watching the big news channels rant on about how deadly the latest virus is?
Photo: European Commission DG ECHO