Dr. Google misdiagnoses one out of four women

Dr. Google misdiagnoses one out of four women

Summary: Women with health concerns are twice as likely to go online for advice than to ask a doctor, their friends, or even their mothers, especially with embarrassing symptoms.


According to a recent study, one in four British women has misdiagnosed themselves on the Internet. Researchers found that women with real health concerns are twice as likely to go online for advice than they are to ask a doctor, their friends, or even their mothers, especially where embarrassing symptoms are involved.

What do women find to be too embarrassing to address? Unfortunately, anything having to do with feminine health issues seems to create dread and stop many of us from seeking help. If this is true for British women, it's probably a reasonable assumption that it's equally true for women in other countries.

Common self-misdiagnoses include breast cancer and other forms of cancer, thrush, high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis, depression, diabetes, thyroid problems, and sexual health problems. Common symptoms used to misdiagnose these things include sleep problems, headaches, depression, anxiety, muscle spasms, stomach cramps, chronic muscle pain, severe fatigue, skin sensitivity, and itching.

In general, self-misdiagnosis can be serious if it delays treatment for the true ailment in question, subjects the medical experimenter to unpleasant side effects from inappropriate treatment, or even masks symptoms of the condition that actually needs attention.

The specific research that is the subject of this article was conducted by BalanceActiv, a UK company, in order to raise awareness of Bacterial Vaginosis. If left untreated, BV carries an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to reduced fertility, heightened risk of contracting STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) including HIV, and early labor and premature birth if present during pregnancy.

BalanceActiv's spokesperson Penny McCormick says, "There is an increasing trend towards using the internet to diagnose any irregularities or worries we have about our bodies. The web gives us a wealth of information that can be useful in reducing our worries until we're able to gain proper advice from a medical authority if it's needed, but the results show how easy it is to make mistakes when diagnosing ourselves."

Ironically, their proposed solution to the problem of "Dr. Google" is the BalanceActiv Symptom Checker, which is...wait for it...an online self-diagnosis tool.

While it couldn't hurt to learn a little bit more by checking out the symptom checker, it's also a really good idea to take a deep breath, do what you can to release that fear, make a decision to trust, and open up and actually talk to a trained healthcare professional about your concerns. See your pharmacist, gynecologist, or general practitioner. These people are trained to be compassionate. Most of the time their hearts are in the right place, and they really do want to help people.

Being told there's nothing to be ashamed of may not help us get over our dread of asking embarrassing questions. But knowing that everyone else is embarrassed, too, may be one of the best things to come out of this study, and might help provide the nudge in the right direction, toward getting help from a trained professional.

Topics: Legal, CXO, Google, Health, IT Employment


Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse, the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College.

Nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice, and shouldn't be considered as such. If you are in need of medical help, please see your doctor.

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  • Aren't you...

    ...presupposing that most medical diagnoses are correct?
    Tony Burzio
    • Two thoughts:

      1. I had the same thought when I read the title (even before reading the article).
      2. Putting Dr. Google in the title (I know a few others before have called it Dr. Google), implies that somehow Google is the primary offender here.
      I tend to see more and more bad trends in publishing of IT magazines and they start by sensationalizing article titles or trying to bait readers.
      More and more ammo for abandoning Magazines that show shoddy practices.
    • The Real Question

      It's true. Unless we know how accurate diagnosis is in the field, we have nothing to compare to, and this statistic is really meaningless. Based on my own limited experience with doctors, I'm not impressed that this is a significant problem.
      • and if "Dr" Google did not exist?

        These same people are just as likely to seek out an alternative non-embarrassing source and "diagnose" themselves, or try to ignore it.

        Maybe this is an opening for a "virtual" doctor service?
    • My thought as well....

      At 3/4 correct I would guess that Dr. Google is giving the medical establishment a run for it's money.

      Still, even unrepentant self-diganosers can get value out of seeing the doc. Think of it like spell-check for word documents. You are PROBABLY right, but a doc can verify and prevent you from making the darwin award list.

      And all that research already done, if properly presented, can help a doc get to the right answer more quickly.
  • nothing to compare it too

    A paid for company survey, no comparison to how often this happens at a real Doctors office. I might hazard a guess that this is so inaccurate as to do no more then throw a bad light on educating ourselves by way of the internet.
    Come back when you have some real facts to work with.
    Home Grown IT
  • One out of four is better than the medical profession achieves

    If "Dr. Google misdiagnoses one out of four women", that makes Dr. Google considerably more accurate than most licensed physicians.
  • Having sought some information on breast cancer survivability

    I found that there is too much information out there from so many bad sources. I would have to guess that 99% of the information I came across was so outdated. A lot of it was posted, in the last 5 years or less, by people based on 15-20 year old information that they were still carrying around today in their heads. The information was so old and scary that my wife had to stop looking over my shoulder.

    People should gather all the details of symptoms and present to a doctor. Doctors are not infallible but probably more accurate than "Dr Google" or Dr Internet. The only advise, as people will continue to use the Internet in this way, is to be skeptical of all that you research.
  • Health professionals have had how many years?

    Its more than embarrassment causing problems. From the time I call to the time I pay, its all, when do you have an appointment available? to at least 3 people waiting in the waiting room. This is an area where traditional fails. IT support has great, ask user this question, go down this branch, to help them solve the users problems. Why can't women doctors do the same thing online? if a gal wants birth control info, most know they can get good info from the planned parenthood website. Good information, with the right questions, into a live chat, and help finding someone local? Why not?
  • Has it occurred, to any of you expert diagnosticians

    That a website cannot do things like blood tests, or bacterial cultures? I didn't think so. You are all too interested in proving your (non-existent) medical expertise.
    • Likely it has

      though you may be looking to far down the "path".

      See doctor > doctor forms an opinion (initial diagnosis) > if warranted doctor orders tests > test results confirm or not the "initial diagnosis".

      In this case I am seeing it as "Dr." Google is being used for the "initial diagnosis".

      Good call though :)
  • Misdiagnosis

    Doctors are just as likely to misdiagnose. The less symptoms the less accurate the diagnosis. Definitive diagnosis usually only happens with tests and even then there can be errors.

    Wrong diagnosis or not, the critical issue is do women seek out a doctor for treatment?
  • Why blame the internet,

    Womens magazines, and newspapers have carried dodgy advice on diets, health issues and the like for years, some of them before the internet even existed.

    If you paid any attention to the whims of media at all, you'd lurch and zumba from one binge to the next on anything that contained something beneficial instead of eating, sleeping and exercising properly.
    That to me is the irony, we spend our time abusing our bodies and technology, then ask it to cure the ills its caused.
  • However...

    ...once the the physician makes the diagnosis, web searches are useful research tools, as the doctor doesn't necessarily have all of the relevant data (but one should still run one's findings by him just to see what he thinks).

    It's fun to think that just plain folks have all of the information they need without ever having to rely on trained professionals, but it is dangerous (not that blind reliance on authority is much better). Educated, but humble patients strike me as being best.
    John L. Ries
  • OMG

    Self diagmosis is dangerous... I wonder why people take so much risk... But again i think google is still great as a first aid measure. What say?

    Susan D,
  • weight watchers scale

    That will really help us all. And this might bring some good repute to you.

  • akashchamp10

  • http://www.hironmoysil.com/

    This is a wonderful information and I got lot of useful information from here.