How Reliable Is the Internet as a Medical Source?

Unfortunately some of the most popular sources of health information for patients may not contain reliable, scientifically-based data. Nilay Kumar, MD, from the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts, and colleagues analyzed YouTube videos on hypertension and found that 33% contained misleading information; those that were classified as useful tended to have the lowest median number of views, views per day, and “likes.”4 Over half of the misleading videos promoted supplements that made claims not supported by scientific research. In another study, about 17% of YouTube videos on end-stage renal disease contained misleading information and were all uploaded by individual users with unknown health credentials.5 The majority of these promoted complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) like herbs and osmotherapy and about 48% included advertisements for these and other related CAM services.

How Can “Dr. Google” Help Clinicians?

The good news is that more services are emerging to assist patients with navigating health information online and in seeking reliable sources. Health-related searches using the Google app for smartphones and devices now show first and foremost information about common medical conditions, symptoms, and treatments; all information has been verified by medical doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic.1 Clinicians can also recommend specific sources online to their patients like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ HealthFinder.Gov for information on health conditions and diseases, nutrition, pregnancy, and more.