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New study reveals the worrying impact of ‘Doctor Google’ in Australia 

6 May, 2019

Research reveals more than a third of Australians (38%) have become convinced they have a life-threatening or terminal illness after Googling their symptoms

Sydney, May 6th  2019 – New research from Australia’s leading medical software and information provider, MedicalDirector, reveals the true extent of the ‘Doctor Google’ trend in Australia and the dangers linked to it. Australians are increasingly turning to Google for assistance with medical inquiries, with more than half (54%) using the search engine at least weekly to look up medical questions and symptoms, and almost 3 in 4 (72%) saying they have at least once used Google to address their health needs instead of visiting a doctor. More than 40% of respondents use Google as their only source of information at least half of the time, when searching for medical information.

The health and psychological dangers of self-diagnosis 

This trend could have important repercussions on Australians’ health – given that most of the time, Dr Google doesn’t provide the right diagnosis. 60% of respondents who were convinced they had a certain illness after Googling symptoms found out it was something else when visiting their practitioner. Alarmingly, more than a third of Australians (38%) said they have become convinced they have a life-threatening or terminal illness after Googling their symptoms.

Dr Charlotte Middleton, GP and Chief Clinical Advisor at MedicalDirector, has faced this situation many times and warns about the potential impacts. “The convenience of looking up health information on Google can easily turn from a habit to a full-blown addiction. I’ve seen many patients who just can’t seem to stop Googling their symptoms, to the point where they need an actual intervention from family and friends to stop them doing it.’”

The impact of ‘Doctor Google’ on self-managing and interpreting health conditions is creating a growing community of ‘the worried well’ across Australia, and we’re at risk of entering a dangerous era of digital hypochondria. The behaviour of young generations who grew up with digital tools are the most worrying. A large majority of 18-24-year-old Australians (87%) systematically Google their medical symptoms, and one in five (20%) say they feel more anxious and worried after doing so, compared to 50% and 5% respectively, of those aged 55-65.

Patients’ expectations and how GPs can shift their approach

In this context, the important question is: what are patients expecting from health practitioners that they’re not currently providing them?

A vast majority of respondents (82%) agree their doctor has more access to the information about medicine, diagnosis and treatments than Google. Regardless, one in four (25%) would expect their doctor to incorporate Google research into their diagnosis, and 38% think their doctor could improve their consultation by providing a fact sheet explaining their condition.

“There is a wealth of good quality, evidence-based information online, but it’s a matter of knowing about where to look.” says Dr Charlotte Middleton. “Also, one in five patients is embarrassed to tell their doctor they have been searching Google for medical answers. That’s why it’s important for more GPs to proactively drive the Google conversation, be well-versed on patient information resources and share them with the patient. With that said, I strongly encourage patients to seek doctors’ advice first. Google can be a way for Australians to improve their health knowledge overall, and a good adjunct to a doctor’s diagnosis and treatment – however, it becomes a problem when it is used instead of seeking our help.”

Methodology: MedicalDirector’s study is based on a survey conducted by PureProfile, on behalf of MedicalDirector, of 1,511 participating Australians. The survey was completed by both men (49%) and women (51%) between the ages of 18 and 65, during the month of November 2018 across all Australian states and territories.

About MedicalDirector

MedicalDirector is Australia’s leading medical software and information provider, processing more than 80 million patient consultations every year across its large and growing network of doctors and healthcare professionals. Backed by over 25 years of developing innovative solutions for medical professionals and operating Australia’s largest population health analytics and insights platform, MedicalDirector actions 2.3 patient consults per second and over 66 million pharmaceutical scripts per year. The company was named second most innovative company in Australia in the AFR 2018 Top 100 Most Innovative Companies ranking and won the award for Best Business Model Innovation. ‘Enable Ideal’ is MedicalDirector’s core promise, and each brand within the MedicalDirector portfolio enables ideal in its own distinct way. MedicalDirector’s vision of ‘together, making people healthier around the world’, is based on a belief that that technology can enable ideal ways of working, of interacting with patients, of generating insights, or living healthily yourself. Every solution MedicalDirector offers starts with the question: What does ideal health mean for you?

Dr Charlotte Middleton

Medical practitioner, prolific speaker, and TV presenter, Dr Charlotte has been in clinical practice for over 20 years, and currently splits her time between General Practice (specialising in integrative medicine), and her role as MedicalDirector’s Chief Clinical Advisor. Increasingly interested in how technology can impact healthcare, Dr Charlotte was the Medical Director at digital health company, Healthshare for 2 years, before joining MedicalDirector in early 2017.