Don't trust Doctor Google, say Kiwi GPs

GPs across the country are warning their patients to be careful when turning to 'Doctor Google' for medical information.

A new survey by Southern Cross Health Society has found doctors are worried about the reliability of some sources available on the internet.

Most of us are guilty of consulting Doctor Google at some point, with varying results and prognoses. Often the internet would lead us to believe our sore throat is a symptom of advanced cancer.

So how do doctors feel about it?

"First let's talk about the positive," says Dr Stephen Child, Southern Cross chief medical officer.

"I mean a doctor-patient relationship is about shared decision making, so the more patients come armed with information the more it empowers the patient to be part of that conversation."

A new survey of Kiwi doctors says the problems arise when the information they're arming themselves with is wrong.

That can lead to unnecessary anxiety and cause disagreements about the right course of action.

"If you come with some information and you would like a certain treatment and we don't think that's the best treatment for you, we need to spend quite a bit of time maybe explaining to you why we don't think it's in your best interest," says Dr Child.

He says it's best to visit verified websites, such as the Southern Cross site - and it turns out many Kiwis do.

During the first three months of 2018, it had 1.8 million hits - 44 percent of which were for the medical library. The most searched illness was bronchitis, with 77,000 visits, followed by tonsillitis and strep throat.

Dr Richard Medlicott ,from the Royal College of GPs, says Google can be a great resource - but only after you've had a firm diagnosis from a professional.

"Say you've got asthma, or you know you've been told you've got inflammatory bowel disease, or an allergy, then there's going to be a lot of information there that's helpful."