Viewpoint: 'Dr. Google' fosters more personalized care than physicians

One in 20 Google searches are related to health, a statistic that illustrates how patients are increasingly choosing to consult "Dr. Google" as much as — if not more than — their primary care physicians, writes Elaine Ou, PhD, a blockchain engineer at Global Financial Access and a Bloomberg opinion columnist.

Three notes from Dr. Ou's op-ed:

1. As an ad network, Google tracks users across the internet and works with data brokers to collect personal data, which it sells access to. "Google has a history of every symptom I've ever typed into a search bar and everywhere I've ever been," Dr. Ou writes. As such, it can "successfully detect flu epidemics based on search queries."

2. Along with disease detection, Google can also use that data to refine its search algorithms so that they return more accurate diagnoses when a user queries their symptoms. "If I enter a list of early symptoms of Ebola on the WebMD Symptom Checker, it tells me I might have the stomach flu, but Google would have tracked me on a jungle trek in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and could predict that I require something more than a bottle of Pepto-Bismol," she writes.

3. Google and other technology companies are playing down their role in consumer health, Dr. Ou argues. In fact, she notes "Google is careful to point out that search results are not intended as medical advice." Nonetheless, patients turn to the internet for advice, which is why "Dr. Google is increasingly taking on the role of primary care providers," according to Dr. Ou.

To access Dr. Ou's op-ed, click here.

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