More opinions on Dr. Google

The Krafty Librarian (Michelle Kraft) cracked me up with her comments regarding the article on Google as a diagnostic tool I posted about the other day.

Michelle posted a link on her blog to audio that summed up her reaction (and that of many healthcare information professionals) to the assertion from the article on Google as a Diagnostic Tool that “[g]oogle is likely to be a useful aid in diagnosis too. It has the advantage of being easier to use and freely available on the internet.”

Press the play button on the flash player below to hear the audio:

(Link to audio)

Many knickers have been twisted in reaction to this article. For a sampling, check out the Rapid Responses at the BMJ site, or some of the postings to MEDLIB-L.

Let’s try to do a little knicker-untwisting.

In the Forbes article about the study, the study’s lead author is quoted as saying:

The most obvious drawback is believing everything one reads, therefore, doctors need to have skills in critical appraisal of stuff they find on the net.” Similarly, “patients doing a search should use common sense, so if something is too good to be true, then… Another potential drawback is self-diagnosis by patients. I don’t think search engines can ever replace a good clinician who has plenty of common sense.

Some points this brings to mind for me:

  • Google is suggested as a tool for the clinician as an experienced professional pursuing a diagnosis in the context of her/his expert training.
  • The authors acknowledge that both clinicians and healthcare consumers need information literacy skills, not just Google.
  • The authors are focused on the use of Google as a diagnostic tool by clinicians, not by patients. Some in the popular media have been irresponsible in suggesting to readers that because Google can be useful to physicians in this manner, patients should do the same.

Here is a part of a very reasonable response that was posted to MEDLIB-L by Margaret Henderson:

…this study was specifically on looking for a diagnosis not conducting a thorough search for articles (as you would for EBM). Given that the other available tools for diagnosis are excessively expensive (note our recent discussions on Up To Date, FirstConsult, etc.) I can see that using Google as an option is a viable one for doctors with no access to these databases.

Whatever we think, it does impact the way we teach our patrons and provide reference.

Margaret’s last sentence is perhaps the most important I’ve seen in discussion on this topic. This article should help to underline for medical libraryfolk a couple of important points:

  • Medical libraries need to do a heck of a lot more self-promotion to make sure that clinicians understand the tools and services available to them when faced with a difficult diagnosis.
  • One of the reasons Google is so appealing to clinicians is because it is easy to access and easy to use. Medical libraries must do more to not only develop tools with easy-to-use interfaces, but to get these tools so thoroughly incorporated into the point-of-care that using them is actually quicker and easier than using Google.

Google isn’t the problem. The problem is that medical libraries are not evolving fast enough to keep up with our patrons’ needs and expectations.

2 thoughts on “More opinions on Dr. Google

  1. Apropos of, “The problem is that medical libraries are not evolving fast enough to keep up with our patrons’ needs and expectations…” part of the problem for medical librarians is that the medical publishers aren’t keeping up. Springer and Elsevier won’t provide RSS feeds (period, basically, in the case of Elsevier) or have really unreliable ones (in the case of Springer). There is incredibly good stuff in the medical journals of both. But if medical librarians can’t keep up on it because those publishers don’t trust Google or RSS as a technology then clinicians are going to continue to bypass Springer and Elsevier entirely and that is scary considering what important stuff is in the journals of those two publishers and obviously that is not good for the bottom lines of Springer and Elsevier. They need to talk to medical librarians and get RSS feeds up.

    It is scary to think that clinicians are unable to keep up on what is available in such a huge amount of medical literature because Springer and Elsevier offer such meager RSS access and such clunky email alert systems. Medical librarians are trying to evolve, but are having to do so as isolated individuals for the most part. Are there any librarians out there who are telling Springer and Elsevier to get with the program or else they will be dog meat in the face of open access and the quick and dirty world of Google? I know that T. Scott Plutchak has been working with Elsevier but not on the RSS situation as far as I can tell.

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