Livin' on the MDedge

Grading Dr. Google and treating malaria by the bowlful


Google: A hypochondriac’s dream

Thanks to Google, we have basically free and unlimited access to a huge amount of information right at our fingertips. So when you’re laid up at home with a cold that seems to be taking a turn for the worse, it’s only natural to pull out your phone and ask Google all about your strange new symptoms. After all, the doctor’s office is so far away, and it costs money and time, and who even wants to deal with doctors anyway?

young woman cluching her heart with both hands at a desk spukkato/Thinkstock

According to a survey commissioned by LetsGetChecked, you’d hardly be alone in turning to Dr. Google. Although 51% of the 2,000 survey respondents consulted a doctor as their first choice for medical help, 65% admitted that they use Google to self-diagnose, 26% have no primary care physician, and about 60% actively avoid doctor’s offices.

So, for the two-thirds of Americans who made an appointment with the good internet doctor, how did things turn out? Not well. About three-quarters reported worrying more afterward, and 43% of all survey respondents managed to convince themselves that they had contracted a serious illness. And the information they looked up? It was wrong more than 60% of the time.

As it turns out, a trained medical professional is actually better than a search engine. Now all we need to do is make accessing health care cheaper, more convenient, and easier to understand. No problem, right?

Better the second time around?

“What’s this stuff?”

water bottles with blue caps lined next to each other tezzstock/Thinkstock

“Recycled water. Supposed to taste just like regular water.”

“Did you drink it?”

“I’m not gonna drink it. You drink it.”

“I’m not gonna drink it.”

“Let’s get Mikey!”

“He won’t drink it. He hates everything.”

This time, the kids were right. Mikey did hate the recycled wastewater, or to be more accurate, he was disgusted by it. Like most people, he supports the idea of water conservation but is too disgusted by the source of recycled water to drink it, according to investigators at the University of California, Riverside.

In three separate experiments, volunteers were shown videos about water. One was about water conservation, another was about the urban myth that crocodiles live in New York City sewers, and the third was an educational video demonstrating that recycled wastewater is contaminant free.

In the first experiment, half of the subjects watched the conservation video and half watched the NYC sewer video. Afterward, nearly all participants in each group said no thanks to recycling. In the second experiment, subjects from the two video-watching groups were all shown the third video on recycled water’s purity. That led to a small but insubstantial increase in willingness to use recycled water.

In the third experiment, each of three groups watched one of the videos. Afterward, all subjects were asked to sign a petition supporting conservation and were offered a bottle of water labeled “SMARTdrop – Pure Recycled Water.” About two-thirds of each group signed the petition and took the bottle despite the investigators’ expectation that the group watching the water purity video would have greater acceptance.

Messaging involving water scarcity and conservation alone may not be enough in this case. Instead, the researchers urged “a focus on the more visceral roadblock of disgust.”

Maybe, or maybe not. For now, let’s get back to Mikey and company.

“Don’t tell the kids it’s the recycled wastewater you’ve been trying to get them to drink. You’re the only one who has to know.”


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