Paging Dr. Google

July 5, 2018


By Larry Cooper

Larry Cooper, MS, LAT, ATC, is Head Athletic Trainer at Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pa., where he also teaches health, physical education, and sports medicine classes. Since 2012, he has served as Chair of the NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Committee. Winner of a 2016 NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award, 2015 T&C Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award, and 2014 NATA Athletic Training Service Award, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers’ Society Hall of Fame in 2014. Cooper can be reached at:


Have you ever had a parent, athlete, or coach come in and ask you to look at their injury, only to find that they already knew what it was and how to treat it from an online search? This month’s article is on “Dr. Google,” the mysterious diagnostician of all ills.

It seems as though the presence of the infamous Dr. Google is becoming widespread, and, if I didn’t know better, should make us fear for our jobs. However, nothing could be further from the truth. While it is indeed frustrating when a patient feels they can diagnose and treat all injuries by looking up one symptom on the computer, we need to start treating these scenarios as teachable moments. 

Usually, the diagnosis they find online does not take into consideration the surface of play, the mechanism of the injury, or any other factors such as age, gender, sport being played, previous injuries, type of equipment, functional testing, etc. All of these play into your evaluation as an athletic trainer, and you need to verbalize this to your patients, parents, and coaches. If it really was that easy to diagnose an injury, then athletic trainers, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and other health care providers would be looking for employment elsewhere—or changing professions as I write this.

What we need to do is change our mindset to one that sees those moments as a shining opportunity to show our skill set, share our vast knowledge and expertise, and develop a plan for treatment/care. No need to get defensive. Politely tell the patient, that Dr. Google wasn’t on the field or court, so it didn’t see how their body moved at the time of the injury. Or explain that good ol’ Dr. Google can’t do the special tests for ligament damage or complete any manual muscle testing. This allows you to explain your evaluation and diagnosis and not the one that Google said. This also might be an ideal moment to explain the correct shoe for the playing surface or sport and offer tips to a coach about preventing injuries during preseason conditioning. All of these situations will help solidify your position within your school community, show your knowledge, and exhibit your willingness to help out.

You might feel like you are getting no respect when athletes come in with a diagnosis they found online. However, we need to remember that respect is earned, and maybe you haven’t spent the time and energy to earn it. Therefore, you will keep getting the same results. Situations with Dr. Google only present themselves every so often, so we need to capitalize on them if we want people to understand our job and show that we are not just tapers or hydration specialists.


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