A powerful new search engine designed to help diagnose rare diseases could prove a boon for both medics and the public
In the late 1940s, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine coined an unusual phrase to describe unexpected diagnoses. “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra,” he said. The phrase stuck and today, medics commonly use the term “zebra” to describe a rare disease, usually defined as one that occurs in less than 1 in 2000 of the population.
Rare diseases are inherently hard to diagnose. According to the European Organisation for Rare Disease, 25 per cent of diagnoses are delayed by between 5 and 30 years.
So it’s no surprise that medics are looking for more effective ways to do the job. An increasingly common aid in this process is the search engine, typically Google. This forms part of an iterative process in which a medic enter symptoms into a search engine, examines lists of potential diseases and then looks for further evidence of symptoms in the patient.