More Doctors than Patients Search Health Information Online

Recently the American Medical Association (AMA) posted an article about “Cyperchondria“, the term given to patients who come into a doctor’s office with a diagnosis in hand that they found on the Internet. As the “disease” name suggests, mostly these worries are unfounded and the result of too much information being available about symptoms like fatigue and a headache that could be related to any number of problems. The article points to data that shows 80% of Americans who use the Internet look for health information online, according to a 2010 Pew Internet and American Life project released in February 2011.

However, another article, from the same time period but based on research about physicians, points out that two separate studies by Google and Manhattan Research showed that 86% and 89% of physicians were using the Internet to find health information in 2009. While the Internet in the hands of a worried patient who doesn’t have a medical education may be a different story than when it is used by a physician, it still is an interesting comparison, especially considering where physicians are searching.

According to the survey, 71% of physicians said they start their research with a search engine like Google. As a layperson, I find this a bit frightening. I’d like to imagine my doctors having a different, more professional and academic, medical-field related starting point for research than I would use. While I might conduct a Google search out of Cyberchondria instincts, I want my physician to be searching respected sources where they can find information to which I don’t have access.

Here are a few more facts about physicians who use a search engine:

  • 57% use terms related to conditions
  • 36% use terms related to treatments and trials
  • 33% look for branded medication

How they searched:

  • 92% clicked on links at the top of the page
  • 46% clicked on the middle of the page links
  • 24% clicked on those at the bottom
  • 8% clicked on sponsored links (Ouch!)

Actions they take after this search:

  • 48% conduct further research (Less than half – double ouch!)
  • Around 1/3 made a change to a patient’s medication or initiated a new treatment

While I know most doctors would not do just a Google search to make medical decisions for their patients, I would not like to imagine my physician following the patterns above. I would feel much better if my doctors were signed up for access to MedInfoNow, where they can conduct a search of all Medline journals or core clinical journals when they have questions about conditions, treatments and trials, and medication. The searches are unsponsored, concise, and include only relevant articles from trusted sources.

Physicians, please. No more Googling, for your patients’ sake. Otherwise you just may catch your own case of Cyberchondria.

2 Comments to “More Doctors than Patients Search Health Information Online”

  1. [...] patients, support groups, and more. It also has its downfalls, like our recently discussed Cyberchondria. And the latest news—it has given rogue pharmacies the opportunity to market illicit and [...]

  2. [...] written a few times about Cyberchondria, the “disease” where patients come into the office with a self-diagnosis pulled from [...]

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