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Caution, Dr Google might misdiagnose!

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According Medical News Today, a new study, published recently in the Journal of Consumer Research, that propose using the internet to self-diagnose can be unwise because we tend to focus on symptoms rather than the risk of having the illness.

For their study, the researchers looked at two pieces of information that influence people’s decision as to whether they have a disease or not: the base rate (the rate of the disease in the general population), and the case information (eg the description of the symptoms).

They had a theory that how much reliance a person places on base rate and case information depends on the “psychological distance” to them of the person who is ill (self being the closest of all, strangers being very distant).

Their theory was that when assessing themselves (psychologically very close), people would place more importance on case information, and the influence of base rate would be weak. But when assessing others, especially strangers, then the influence of symptoms would be weak and base rate would be strong.  (…)

The researchers said this study and others like it are important because, if consumers are more likely to misdiagnose themselves, then this could lead to them taking up treatments and buying drugs that are not appropriate, which has a wider impact on public health.

The easiest answer, they conclude is to get rid of the bias by seeing a real doctor instead of “Dr Google”.

Real doctors will take the prevalence of the disease into account, because they are viewing the patient from a distance, they say.


Paddock, Catharine. Dr Google And The Unwise Practice Of Self-Diagnosis. Medical News Today, 23 Jul 2012. Available from:






Written by hbasset

August 8, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Posted in Web 2.0

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