Google knows more about certain diseases than physicians ever will

Professor Gunter Dueck, is a calm and eloquent german mathematician who’s also the CTO of IBM Germany. He studied mathematics and philosophy and eventually turned out to be a great writer and speaker. Unfortunately he only does so in German, which is why it doesn’t make much sense to post a video of him here.

In a recent talk he gave (German only), he talks about whether a connected and information-based world is a nightmare or a dream come true. Near the end of the talk he picks up the topic of what a connected society, what the Internet and what ubiquitious information means for certain jobs, in particular for contractors or service providers like lawyers and doctors:

You are more and more disapointed by professionals who live off their knowledge, whom you’ve always trusted and whose expertise you’ve considered to be untouchable.

Now the Internet gives everyone and extremely powerful tool to research even the most complex medical knowledge. Be it Map-Kinases or the different types of leukemia. It is simply amazing (and to some of us, slightly discomforting) that such highly specific knowledge which was only able to be acquired going through several years of med school is now freely available to everybody. And it changes things.

The problem is that Google knows more about certain diseases than the average physician will ever be able to learn and hold on to. The shift from knowing something to knowing where to get it from is changing the way medicine is being practiced, because mature patients start to demand things and no physician really likes that fact because it takes away our sovereignity. This cannot be generalized, but take surgeons. You will never be able to become a surgeon by reading wikipedia articles, but the patient now has the option to research different surgical procedures for her medical problem. A quick Google search, a peek into a meta-analysis found in PubMed and consulting some online forums will give you a good understanding of how the surgery is going to be performed and whether there are different kinds of procedures that might fit for you specifically. Now the patient can question the physicians choice – and so they do.

The angst created by this trend is understandable, yet (probably) needs to be accepted on the long run. We as physicians need to find ways to differentiate us more and more. Wearing a white coat and having a lot of knowledge is simply not enough to prevail. Experience and specialization are elements that make a good physician in the 21st century, but if you agree with the fact that it’s more important to know where to find information, rather than having it all stored in your brain then this ultimately must result in the fact that medical education must change radically.

Would you agree that all the information you learn throughout medical school can also be found via the internet? If so, then it also becomes clear how the Doctor 2.0 can differentiate herself from the Doctor 1.0. It can’t only be knowledge, but also:

  • Empathy
  • Time
  • Respect
  • Guidance
  • Decision support

That’s going to be ultimately at least as important as having knowledge (if that’s not already the way it is, but nobody really talks about it) and what will define you as a “good” or “not so good” doctor in the patients eyes. We are not saying the elements above have not been important until now, but they are becoming more important than ever.

-Lukas Zinnagl is a physician and co-founder of MedCrunch, an online magazine covering health, medicine, entrepreneurship and technology all centered around new trends and the challenge of being a physician.

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