Doctors have been estimated to carry 2 million facts in their heads to help them diagnose illness.
However, with medical knowledge expanding rapidly, even this may not be enough.
Google is the most popular search engine on the world wide web, giving users quick access to more than 3 billion medical articles.
So, how good is Google in helping doctors diagnose difficult cases?
Dr Hangwi Tang and colleagues from the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, Australia, identified 26 difficult diagnostic cases published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005.
The cases included conditions such as Cushing's syndrome and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
The team of doctors selected 3 to 5 search terms from each case, and did a Google search while blind to the correct diagnoses.
| Google searches found the correct diagnosis in 58% of cases|
|British Medical Journal|
The doctors then selected and recorded the 3 diagnoses that were ranked most prominently and seemed to fit the symptoms and signs.
These diagnoses were compared the results with the correct diagnoses as published in the journal.
Google searches found the correct diagnosis in 58% of cases.
The doctors suggest that Google is likely to be a useful aid for conditions with unique symptoms, and signs that can easily be used as search terms.
However, they stress that the efficiency of the search and the usefulness of the retrieved information depend on the searchers' knowledge base.
Dr Tang's team comments, “Doctors and patients are increasingly using the internet to search for health related information, and useful information on even the rarest medical syndromes can now be found and digested within a matter of minutes.”
“Our study suggests that in difficult diagnostic cases, it is often useful to google for a diagnosis.”