Who's your patients' best friend? Google!

Google stock value is just over 80 billion ($ 290 per share as of today) but the internet prodigy is not only valuable to the shareholders. A UK survey of 1,000 people (reported by the Times) found that 12 % turn first to Google (before their GP). This is not surprising, knowing that the internet was consulted first by 21 % of the people in the survey. As a comparison, friends and family (F&F), were cited as the first source by only 10 %.

Actually, although I use UpToDate, Google Scholar and Pubmed almost daily, sometimes the best answers to medical questions are found on the plain Google search. You just have to put more "medical words" to find the professional as opposed to commercial websites. For example, "ischemic stroke" will yield more medical sources than just "stroke" or "brain attack".

The problem with the patients using Google search is the credibility of the sources found out there. It is chilling to see that 86 % of the people in the survey thought that Google results are accurate. For comparison, 94 % trusted their GP. Google lags behind by just 8%...

How Doctors Use Google

Kevin MD and California Medicine Man have good summaries on Google use by doctors. I also use Google Image Search all the time and I find it very helpful, especially when I am reading on some "dry" subject from a book without illustrations. Also, you can check out the web page that Google shows below the image (when you click on it), sometimes this can lead you to very interesting pages which are otherwise hidden on page 20-30 from the regular search results. We are all visual creatures and clinical images are definitely helpful.

The image search was one of the reasons we started the Clinical Cases and Images project to share typical and not-so-typical cases. It was very rewarding to find the clinical images that we posted (like cardiac tamponade) on Google and Yahoo searches.

Google Scholar is helpful, no doubt about it, mainly because it uses the same link-to page rank algorithm to weigh the significance of a particular article. The problem with the Scholar is that it lags behind PubMed in updates, for example if you search for a topic and the article was published in several months ago, it will not appear in Scholar but it will show up in PubMed. Anyway, search for "scholar" and Google Scholar will be the first hit on both Yahoo and Google.

Using "differential" or other medical terms to sort out the commercial websites is very useful. The other option is to go by the source, like "search term" + "NEJM", "AFP", "Merck manual", "eMedicine", etc., just like Kevin mentions it in his post.

Update 3/28/2007:

Adam Bosworth, Vice President of Engineering at Google Inc. covers similar topics in: How do you know you're getting the best care possible?

More people consult Google over health - Times Online
Google Now Worth $80 Billion - Inside Google on Blog News Channel
Google most valuable media company - CNN
How do I use Google? - Kevin MD
Some Great Google Tips - California Medicine Man

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