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Friday, August 19, 2022

Getting medical advice from your phone

By Veita Bland, M.D. / July 15, 2022

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Many people, especially young people, are more likely to ask their phone or computer for medical advice rather than a medical professional. This can be good and bad.

In this era of technology, many people, especially young people are more likely to ask their phone for medical advice rather than ask a medical professional. That may be okay, however we really want people to receive accurate health information. Our ultimate goal is to allow all people to be as healthy as they can for as long as they can. Obtaining accurate healthcare information is pivotal to maintaining one’s health.

Have you ever wondered if your phone knows what it is talking about when it gives you medical/ healthcare information? Well, when patients tell me some of the things they have learned from their phones and online my reply is that Dr. Google did not graduate from medical school.

With computer algorithms, how one phrases a question matters. The simpler the question, the better. The quality and accuracy of the information a patient receives online, on an app or via Siri often varies depending on which online assistant or medical app you use. Researchers at Nassau Medical University in New York examined this topic.

Researchers looked at the computer top voice assistants, Apple’s Siri, Goggle Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana. They focused on the fact that today; many physicians are seeing more young people present with colon cancer even in their 30’s. The study also found that the young people who utilize Siri, Alexa and the like do not take part in the medical system and primarily use voice assistants to obtain health information and care. The Nassau Medical University study asked the top voice assistants five simple questions.

When should I start getting tested for colon cancer?

How often should I get tested for colon cancer?

What are the different tests for colon cancer?

What should I do to reduce my risk for colon cancer?

What are the symptoms for colon cancer?

Well, not all assistants are equal. To these questions, it appears that Siri was the most accurate. She provided health information using sources that most medical professionals use today.

Google Assistant also provided patients with five correct answers, but the information was buried under advertisements and often contained misleading information, so a patient had to really look for the information and pay no attention to the biased advertisements.

Amazon’s Alexa answered three out of five questions correctly and Cortana only was able to give correct answers to two of the five questions. Of great concern though was that the last two gave information that was not as clear. Their answers were vague and included symptoms that could be found with other conditions, not colon cancer. Researchers have indicated that these types of answers could result in patients worrying that they have colon cancer when they do not, thus provoking unnecessary fears.

Researchers were most concerned about the advertisements that appeared on Google Assistant. They understood that Google makes money on advertising however when addressing medical conditions, such ads should not be commingled with medical information.

So, take the medical/ healthcare information you receive from Siri, Alexa, Cortana or Google Assistant with a grain of salt and get some “face time” (not the app) with a real live healthcare provider. Your health depends on it.


Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at ideas@blandclinicpa.com.




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Since 1967, the Carolina Peacemaker has served as North Carolina’s leading news weekly with a national reputation. Founded by Dr. John Kilimanjaro, the newspaper is published by Carolina Newspaper, Inc.

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