Health Scan: In Dr. Google's opinion...

Australian study: Google search engine can help doctors diagnose difficult cases.

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November 19, 2006 00:12
3 minute read.
Health Scan: In Dr. Google's opinion...

health scan 88. (photo credit: )

Internet users know they can find almost any fact by doing a Google search (although you have to separate truth from falsehoods spread by the ignorant and by vested interests). Now an Australian study published in the British Medical Journal has found that the Google search engine (www.google.com) can help doctors diagnose difficult cases. Doctors carry about two million facts in their heads to help diagnose illness, but with medical knowledge expanding rapidly, even this may not be enough. Google gives users quick access to over three billion medical articles. So, how good is Google at helping diagnose difficult cases? Doctors at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane identified 26 difficult diagnostic cases published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005. These included conditions such as Cushing's syndrome and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. They selected three to five search terms from each case and did a Google search while blind to the correct diagnoses. They then recorded the three diagnoses that were ranked most prominently and seemed to fit the symptoms and signs, and compared the results with the correct diagnoses as published in the journal. Google searches found the correct diagnosis in 15 (58%) of cases. The authors suggest that Google is likely to be a useful aid for conditions with unique symptoms that can be used as search terms. However, they stress that the efficiency of a search and the usefulness of the retrieved information depend on the searcher's knowledge base. Doctors and patients are increasingly using the Internet to search for health-related information, and useful data on even the rarest medical syndromes can now be found in a matter of minutes. "Our study suggests that in difficult diagnostic cases, it is often useful to google for a diagnosis." Trusting in fate can be bad for your health The haredi and Arab belief in Fate - meaning that any illness that strikes them is regarded as God's will - is believed to increase the likelihood that diabetes will be diagnosed later in these groups. So say diabetologist who treat these populations. Numbering about 500,000 people, they have the same genes as their secular and less-observant counterparts, but cultural reasons put them more at risk for diabetes. Besides fatalism, some haredim regard chronic disease as "shameful" and something that must be hidden, especially when parents want to arrange marriages for their children. In addition, the excessive consumption of certain fattening foods on the Sabbath and holidays (meals are an integral part of Orthodox Jewish life) can lead to obesity. Exercise and sports usually get short shrift in haredi schools, and harried parents with many children themselves find little spare time to work out. Diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes in this sector is usually late, so they often suffer a variety of complications before they begin treatment. Diabetologists who treat haredi patients report that many do not manage to keep their blood sugar under control with exercise, diet and oral medications. Further, many fear syringes, and so they refuse to inject themselves with insulin. They also tend to avoid support groups, especially if secular Jews are included, and certainly not if men and women are together. Haredi women, but due to lack of exposure to the general media, don't know enough about the risks posed by pregnancies to both the diabetic mother and her fetus. The Israeli Arab population, like haredi Jews, have large families. According to Dr. Deeb Daoud, deputy head of the endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism department at Haifa's Rambam Medical Center, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is higher in the Arab sector. They too are only half as likely to have their blood sugar balanced as the secular Jewish population, and fewer than half who need insulin for this purpose agree to use it. Today's typical Arab diet and lifestyle is not healthful. Men smoke (and smoke more than average), while menus are high in animal fat. Adults and children get too little exercise. They too believe in Fate, and tend to hide chronic illnesses for the same reasons as haredi Jews. They too put much stress on food, and lots of it, especially at family celebrations and on holidays. The Arab media do not offer reliable reports about diabetes. Daoud noted that Beduin living in the Negev still observe a traditional desert life of physical exertion and a low-calorie diet. The rate of Type 2 diabetes among Beduin adults is low compared to their Jewish counterparts, even in those over 65. But the more Westernized and urban their lifestyle becomes, the higher the prevalence of diabetes. The Beduin do not join health clubs, and there are no exercise breaks in factories. Urbanized Beduin, like Jews, increasingly "exercise" by walking to the refrigerator or the car.


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