With one in 20 web searches on Google now being conducted for health-related information1, patients now have unprecedented access to medical data, knowledge, and research at their fingertips. However, some clinicians are wary of the so-called “Dr. Google,” a term for the vast amount of health information online that may or not be reliable and backed by empirical research. The Internet as a patient medical resource doesn’t have to be a source of scourge for health professionals – indeed, it can even help clinicians improve their relationships with patients and open dialogue and communication.

How Much Are Patients Searching for Health Information Online?

Although one may assume that tech-savvy adolescents are flocking online for health-related information, this does not appear to be the case based on a recent study. A large, nationally representative survey conducted by researchers at the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University found that while 84% of teenagers aged 13–18 reported to have received health information online, only 25% stated that they received “a lot” of information from the Internet. Parents remain a key source for health knowledge for these adolescents, as 55% said that they get “a lot” of information from them, 32% from health classes in school, and 29% from clinicians.Only 9% of the teenagers surveyed looked for this information from Facebook and 4% from Twitter vs. 58% who reported using a search engine; however, half admitted that they usually clicked on the first website that appeared in the results (which may not be a medically-vetted website).

A survey from the Pew Research Center found that adults are searching online for health information at a lower rate than adolescents (70%), but that Internet users with multiple chronic conditions are significantly more likely to have looked online for medical information such as a specific drug, treatment, or disease compared to those without any chronic conditions (60% vs. 48%, respectively).3 This does not necessarily indicate that the patients with multiple chronic conditions searching for information online then followed up with a visit to a clinician, as only 27% then made an appointment with a medical professional.