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Ohio State professor advises against using Google for medical advice

Riza Conroy, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at Ohio State, encourages people not to use Google as their doctor. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

People rely on Google for everything from directions to medical advice, but medical professionals warn users that a search engine does not replace a diagnosis by a medical professional.

Riza Conroy, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at Ohio State, said in her recent blog post, “What your doctor wants you to know about ‘Dr. Google,’” that there are several factors to consider when looking to Google for a diagnosis.

“Google is a vast resource of information, and because of that, the credibility varies widely,” Conroy said.

Conroy said there is a lot of great information online, but the trouble often comes with interpretation.

Her biggest concern with patients looking to the internet for a diagnosis is that it often leads people to presume the worst, Conroy said, and this can lead to anxiety that could be avoided by seeing a doctor who can put symptoms into context.

“It causes [people] to lose sleep, especially patients with anxiety,” Conroy said. “I tell them not to search [online].”

Another fault with consulting Google is websites that promote home remedies as treatment, she said.

While home remedies can be effective in some scenarios, Conroy suggests checking with a doctor before making any moves toward an in-home cure.

Conroy said that she has seen patients go to extreme, unnecessary and sometimes harmful measures to cure themselves all because of “medical reasons” they read about online.

Once, she had a patient with a minor rash who poured bleach on herself to stop the itching, and when that failed, she took it a step further with gasoline. Conroy said the patient’s rash turned into burns and the skin became extremely discolored, all the while, remaining itchy.

She also once encountered a patient who believed it was medically necessary to not shower for two weeks after giving birth, which she said is actually dangerous for the mother and baby.

Conroy said consulting a doctor about symptoms is always the best choice, but she said there are several quality resources for people who do not want to leave their home.

She added that many insurance companies offer a 24-hour nurse phone line for customers to call and discuss any medical concerns and that many doctors’ offices offer a similar service.

Conroy recommended that if a patient does choose to go online to research their symptoms, sticking with .org and .gov websites is usually safest. A full list of recommended sites can be found in her blog post.

The Wilce Student Health Center at Ohio State offers an exhaustive range of medical professionals at Ohio State students’ disposal, Will Garner, operations excellence manager at Wilce Student Health Services at Ohio State, said.

“At Student Health Services, we like to consider ourselves a one-stop shop for all of our student’s health care needs,” Garner said.

The health center offers primary care as well as gynecological, dental, radiology, nutritional, laboratory, allergy, physical therapy, optometry and preventive services, Garner said.

“All students at Ohio State are required to have health insurance,” Garner said, and the health center accepts most major health plans, as well as the university-provided insurance, making the health center a resource most students can access.  

The health center accepts appointments and walk-ins, Garner said. It is located at 1875 Millikin Road, and appointments can be made on its website or by calling 614-292-4321. The health center also offers a nurse phone line open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday at the same number, where students can discuss any medical concerns they may have.

One comment

  1. Beware any provider who uses the words “ancient,” “holistic,” ‘homeopathic,” “integrative,” or “naturopathic.”

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