Google's reverse image search tool isn't designed to diagnose skin conditions, researchers say, and people who try to use it this way are likely to get a wrong result.
But in a test using photographs of benign and cancerous skin conditions, the top 10 matches returned were often not the same disease at all.
"As expected, the Google reverse search engine does a great job of recognizing objects such as houses, refrigerators, animals," study coauthor Dr. Kavita Y. Sarin told Reuters Health by email. "When it comes to skin lesions, the accuracy drops significantly," said Sarin, of the dermatology department at Stanford University School of Medicine in Redwood City, California.
"Physicians undergo many years of training to diagnose many of these skin conditions and, when unsure, rely on additional tools such as dermoscopy and biopsy," she said. "It is important for users to be aware of the limitations of relying on search engine alone for diagnosis."