Google is efficient for identifying specific medical information

google medical search

Google is significantly more efficient in searching for specific medical information than other search engines such as Yahoo!, and Wikipedia. Moreover, general search engines guide users to websites likely to contain information on a topic of interest with greater efficiency than directly accessing an individual website (eg, Wikipedia, MDconsult and others).

Physicians are concerned about the accuracy of the information identified with ordinary search engines. They often believe that medical search engines identify websites of higher quality than generalized search engines.

When seeking medical information they mostly prefer websites such as:

These medical websites also have disadvantages:

  • The resource selected may not contain information
    on the topic of interest.
  • With PubMed, navigating through a chronologic list of results can be time-consuming
  • Access to the full text of an article may require a fee.
  • The article may not ultimately provide the specific information needed.

How was this research done?

This institutional review board–approved case cross-over study randomly assigned 89 medical student volunteers to use either Google or any other web-based resource (excluding Google) to research 10 advanced medical questions in a multiple choice exam. Primary outcome measures were resource efficiency (inversely related to number of links used to identify the correct answer for each question) and correctness (number of correct answers/total number of questions answered). For Google searches, the sites providing the information in question were also evaluated.

Searches initiated with non-Google resources on average required 0.44 more links per search than Google to correctly answer the question. The Google and non-Google searches didn’t differ in correctness of the answers.

It is important to notice that Google often guided users to a list of established medical resources.
These included journal articles, eMedicine, Medscape, Medline Plus, PubMed, disease-specific sites, and a
range of medical dictionaries. These sites are of high quality. The two end sites that most commonly provided the user with a correct answer after a Google search were the interactive encyclopedia Wikipedia and eMedicine. To reach the correct information on these sites fewer steps were required compared to PubMed or journal sites.

Limitations of this study
Information requested was specific medical information not searching for clinical decision making, systemic reviews, or evidenced-based practice. Participants were young, educated, high Internet users with much experience using search engines.

Google best guided users to web-based medical resources or medical publications that presented accurate information for the topics in question.
P JOHNSON, J CHEN, J ENG, M MAKARY, E FISHMAN (2008). A Comparison of World Wide Web Resources for Identifying Medical Information Academic Radiology, 15 (9), 1165-1172 DOI: 10.1016/j.acra.2008.02.010