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Stumped? Turn to a search engine

Puzzled GPs should turn to internet search engines to help them diagnose rare and complicated conditions, researchers recommend.

Their study found web searching could identify the correct diagnosis in more than half of cases where a GP had been stumped.

Doctors from the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, Australia, selected a sample of diagnostic cases from the New England Journal of Medicine and entered between three and five search terms from each case into Google.

The researchers recorded the first three plausible diagnoses provided and compared them with the published diagnoses – getting it right in 15 cases out of 26. The conditions correctly diagnosed included lymphoma, Cushing's syndrome and cat scratch disease.

Despite the advance of internet search engines, some human medical knowledge is still required. Writing in the BMJ, the authors concede: 'Searches by a ''human expert'' have a better yield.' They conclude: 'Web-based search engines are becoming the latest tool in clinical medicine and doctors need to be proficient in their use.'

• The only search engine just for GPs – searchmedica.co.uk

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