Until recently, the term “googling symptoms” has generally had strong negative connotations among health professionals, bringing to mind visions of patients carrying stacks of mostly-useless articles that they’ve found online to their doctor’s visits. This seems to be changing, however. As often seems to happen, a term like “googling symptoms” that starts out being pejorative and negative changes its sense, and becomes more positive.

As reflected in the screenshot for the googling symptoms search at left, a large part of the reason for the changing view of “googling symptoms” among healthcare professionals has been an article in Time Magazine by physician Zachary Meisel — Googling Symptoms: How it can Help Patients and Doctors — which takes a positive view of the matter (see excerpts below).

The search screenshot gives an interesting perspective on how the recent positive view of “googling symptoms” is nudging its way up Google’s list, “in hot pursuit” of the older, negative articles above it. The other positive article on the list, in support of Meisel’s Time article — Patients Google their symptoms, doctors need to deal with it — is by prominent physician blogger Kevin Pho (kevinmd.com). The results for the googling symptoms search, of course, will change constantly, and so won’t necessarily be exactly the same on any particular day. But it will be interesting to watch over time to see if the positive view of the term continues to move up and multiply.

A few excerpts from the Meisel Time article:

There is no question that patients routinely benefit from going online before visiting the doctor. To debate whether patients should or should not Google their symptoms is an absurd exercise. Patients already are doing it, it is now a fact of normal patient behavior, and it will only increase as Internet technology becomes ever more ubiquitous. Doctors and nurses are going to have to shed the presumption that the Internet makes patient care harder. It’s a problem if doctors continue to walk into the exam room with the belief that patients always need to be disabused of the wrong and sensationalistic information they picked up while trolling the Net.

Googling Symptoms & Patient Empowerment: A Watershed Moment

Noted activist patient-advocate Dave deBronkart (@ePatientDave) has also seen the Time article as “a sign of shifting winds … a watershed moment (boldface added).” He suggests that health information providers capitalize on the moment by “developing tools to teach smart info-shopping” to help the empowered patient find the best online medical sources – Medical Librarians take Note!

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

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