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Dr. Google, make way for Dr. ChatGPT

5 Ways the New AI is Different from What Has Come Before, Plus Tips for Using ChatGPT to Investigate Symptoms


Dr. ChatGPT doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue… at least not like Dr. Google does.


For nearly two decades, patients have been able to Google their symptoms online, and by now, physicians have gotten used to the fact that more and more patients are likely to have Googled their symptoms before coming into the office.


Meanwhile, people have gotten used to researching symptoms online. Most now understand how to seek out trusted sources and take what they find with a grain of salt—of course, it is still all too easy to descend into a spiral of anxiety and fear at the possibility that your recurring headaches and fatigue might signal some impending, life-ending doom, rather than, say, lack of sleep and dehydration.


As Karen Weintraub recently wrote in USA Today about the historic changes wrought by Dr. Google: “Some of the information was wrong. Much of it was terrifying. But it helped empower patients who could, for the first time, research their own symptoms and learn more about their conditions.”


Now enter OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which is already proving it has the potential to transform healthcare in ways that Google never could—including how patients can research their conditions online.


You may have heard that the latest version of ChatGPT passed the medical board exams that doctors are required to take to earn their medical licenses. Even more impressive is test after test that shows ChatGPT can make medical decisions in some cases better than many clinicians. Dr. Isaac Kohane, a Harvard computer scientist and co-author of The AI Revolution in Medicine, wrote that ChatGPT has often better than many doctors he’s observed.


So, how is ChatGPT different from Dr. Google? Let’s start with the basics.


Search vs. Conversation

Google is a search tool. And while searches can be a valuable starting point for patients, they invariably involve sifting through numerous web pages to find relevant information. For an integrative medicine patient interested in alternative treatments for a chronic condition, this can be a time-consuming and frustrating process.


In contrast, ChatGPT is an interactive, conversational experience. This ability to engage in conversation is one of ChatGPT’s most fundamental selling points. It allows patients to ask specific questions and receive more direct answers. This can lead to a more efficient and user-friendly experience when researching symptoms or alternative treatments.


Information Overload

And speaking of efficiency: Google searches can sometimes yield an overwhelming amount of information, making it difficult for people to determine which sources are accurate and relevant. In integrative medicine, where there are often various treatment options and approaches, this can be especially problematic.


Many websites that are not so credible have become incredibly good at hacking the Google algorithm to appear at the top of search results (if you want trusted sources, see Dr. Falcone’s recommendations for the best integrative medicine resources). This leaves patients searching out just a handful of top, trusted brand names in medicine for information, such as the Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins. If you’re reading material on one of their sites, you should have strong confidence that it represents good medical judgment.


ChatGPT helps patients avoid information overload by providing more focused and contextualized responses, making it easier for users to understand their options and make informed decisions. But this conciseness comes at a cost—it’s impossible to check the sources that ChatGPT is relying on for its information, and unfortunately, ChatGPT has been known to “hallucinate,” that is, make stuff up.


Which brings us to the next difference between Dr. Google and ChatGPT.


Reliability and Trustworthiness

While Google provides a mix of reputable and less credible sources, users must evaluate the trustworthiness of each website or source on their own. As noted above, this can be especially overwhelming when there are so many different sources trying to answer the same question.


ChatGPT is certainly fallible—but it is designed to provide well-informed responses based on extensive training data, which includes information from reputable sources, even if you can’t directly verify them yourself. And, as researchers like Dr. Kohane above are finding, in many instances ChatGPT is providing as good or even better clinical judgment than some doctors.


You still need to take the information ChatGPT gives you with a grain of salt, but it’s a different kind of grain than Dr. Google. With Google, patients must stitch together various different sources to somehow arrive at their own idea of what’s going on. ChatGPT will do that stitching for you—you just have to understand it could be wrong.


Context Sensitivity

A key challenge in using Google to research medical symptoms is its limited ability to understand the context or nuances in a patient’s query. As anyone who has turned to Google for answers knows, many times the results are just not directly related to your particular set of symptoms or concerns.


ChatGPT, on the other hand, is better equipped to understand context and provide more targeted answers. For instance, if an integrative medicine patient is experiencing fatigue and looking for potential causes, ChatGPT can offer a more nuanced discussion of possible factors, such as stress, sleep, or nutritional deficiencies. On top of which, you can engage in conversation with ChatGPT to narrow in on your particular situation, just by telling it directly what that situation is.


Adaptability

All of which leads us back to ChatGPT’s greatest strength.


With Google, search results can often be frustratingly unsatisfying, meaning you have to refine your search query and experiment around until you find something useful.


ChatGPT, conversely, can adapt to user feedback during a conversation, adjusting its responses and providing more relevant information as needed. This adaptability is particularly useful for integrative medicine patients, who may have complex questions about various treatment options and their potential interactions with conventional medicine.


Tips for using ChatGPT to research symptoms

So, Dr. ChatGPT (which still does not roll off the tongue) can provide some pretty useful strengths over Dr. Google. Neither of them can provide the kind of focused coaching and in-person accountability that a real-life integrative medicine physician would. And of course, neither ChatGPT nor Google can physically inspect you, or order medical tests (though new AI tools are getting very good at interpreting medical tests!).


And remember, neither is a true partner for you—each of those tools has its own incentives and algorithms. If you are looking for an integrative medicine physician to partner with you on your journey toward better health and wellness, feel free to reach out today and schedule a free 15-minute consultation to see if Dignity Integrative is a good match.


In the meantime, if you are going to use ChatGPT to investigate symptoms, here are some useful tips to get you started:

  1. Don’t immediately ask ChatGPT for a diagnosis. Instead, start a conversation. So for example, first explain your symptoms, then ask ChatGPT what other questions it would ask to get better clarity on what might be causing them.

  2. Ask ChatGPT to “answer as if” it were a doctor. You can even ask it to answer as if it were a specific kind of doctor. Or, if you’re not sure what kind of doctor would best answer the question, try explaining your symptoms and then ask ChatGPT which kind of clinician would be best-equipped to help you investigate this.

  3. Don’t ask for a single diagnosis. Instead, ask what the different possibilities might be. Remember, ChatGPT could be wrong if you ask it for one, simple declarative diagnosis, so instead ask it to give you the “top three” or “top five” most likely causes.

  4. Finally, don’t hesitate to follow-up by asking it to explain itself. For example, you could ask it to “explain why you listed each of those as a possibility,” and even ask how likely each possibility is.

The best benefit: time

One of the most incredible benefits of ChatGPT is that it is (currently) free to use. Unlike traditional doctors who are always pressed for time, you can spend as long as you want engaging in a discussion with ChatGPT.


Actually, it’s not so different than what we’ve aimed to provide at Dignity Integrative: more time to engage in a dialogue, investigate root causes, and follow up with coaching and updates as necessary.


As an integrative medicine clinic, our time is not unlimited—but we have created a practice with dramatically more time for each patient than they would ordinarily get in the conventional medical system.



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