The Medical Insider: Helping Patients Google Symptoms

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We’ve all done it. We’ve typed symptoms like “tingling, left arm” into Google, WebMD or any one of the myriad encyclopedic medical resources available on the Internet, before going to the doctor for an actual diagnosis. (Is it a stroke? Shingles? Carpal tunnel?)

Patients’ “Google stacks” (the printouts listing all their potential diagnoses) and “cyberchondria,” as some doctors refer to them, can be difficult for physicians to manage, says Dr. Zachary F. Meisel in his new column, Medical Insider, on However, to “debate whether patients should or should not Google their symptoms…is an absurd exercise,” Meisel says, since patients are already doing it. Plus, it often empowers patients and, in some instances, can make doctors’ jobs easier:

[T]here is no question that patients routinely benefit from going online before visiting the doctor. Recently I saw a patient who came to the ER with a strange rash. She arrived with color printouts that correctly identified her condition. Not only was she correct in her self-diagnosis, but I am not sure I would have considered the right diagnosis so quickly if she hadn’t brought in the pictures.

So the real question is, How should doctors embrace and guide their patients’ online sleuthing in order to improve their care? To find out, check out this week’s Medical Insider.

New columns will appear each week on Wednesday.