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December 23, 2005

Google is Changing Medicine

Dean Giustini, How Google is changing medicine, BMJ, December 24, 2005. An editorial. Excerpt by Peter Suber (OANews, 23/12/2005):

"What a remarkable year it has been for those of us monitoring changes in the global information landscape. Since last Christmas, there has been a flurry of activity: the digitisation of the world's libraries began in earnest (despite the copyright fracas); open access publishing gained much-needed support internationally (especially in science and medicine); and Google, MSN Search, and Yahoo introduced a number of customisation tools for desktops and mobiles, podcasts, blogs, and video searches....For all the benefits technology provides, it does provoke anxiety. In a recent letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, a New York rheumatologist describes a scene at rounds where a professor asked the presenting fellow to explain how he arrived at his diagnosis. Matter of factly, the reply came: "I entered the salient features into Google, and [the diagnosis] popped right up." The attending doctor was taken aback by the Google diagnosis. "Are we physicians no longer needed? Is an observer who can accurately select the findings to be entered in a Google search all we need for a diagnosis to appear --as if by magic?" In a post-Google world, where evidence based education is headed is anyone's guess.5 Googling your diagnosis; Googling your treatment—where is all this leading us?...Google has won the battle of the search engines, at least for the time being (see example in table), and its more serious minded offspring, Google Scholar, is rapidly gaining ground. Within a year of its release Google Scholar has led more visitors to many biomedical journal websites than has PubMed (J Sack, personal communication, 2005)....As scientific societies and associations consider moving their journals to open access models, Google Scholar and Elsevier's Scirus will likely provide a reliable gateway to this information. The most useful feature to come out this year on Google Scholar is "cited by" referencing. This free tool links searchers to other scholarly papers that have cited the paper being viewed. Scholar also provides links to local library catalogues through its library link program and through an international database called WorldCat....Apparently, Google's data mining techniques are well suited to analysing gene sequences in the human genome project. It may even be possible for patients to "google their own genes" one day. But "do no evil" is a far cry from "do what's best for humanity." Google is still a business. However, if it wishes to do something for medicine, Google should consider creating a medical portal. Call it Google Medicine; design an interface with medical filters and better algorithms; lead to the best evidence (just don't forget to consult with librarians about where the evidence is located). This kind of all purpose tool is badly needed in medicine, particularly for developing countries."

(PS: How are search advances, from Google and others, changing your field?)

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