Study: Google Search Results Offer Mixed-Quality Health Information

April 15, 2014 in News

The quality of health-related information available through Internet searches varies, and lower-quality online health information could be hazardous to health, according to a University of Florida study published in the journal Decision Support Systems, the Business Standard reports (Business Standard, 4/13).

Study Details

For the study, researchers queried Google’s search engine with more than 2,000 health-related terms, including:

  • Physical illnesses;
  • Mental ailments;
  • Diet;
  • Fitness; and
  • Nutrition.

The resulting websites then were evaluated based on whether they had been referenced or certified by two groups that assess health care websites:

  • Medline Plus, which is run by NIH; and
  • The Health on the Net Foundation, a not-for-profit.

Study Findings

The study found significant discrepancies between results on physical and mental health disorders and those related to nutrition, fitness and diet.

Specifically, the study showed that:

  • 65% of searches on diagnostic and treatment information for medical conditions resulted in certified or referenced websites; and
  • 35% of searches for preventive and wellness information resulted in certified or referenced websites.

On average, more than 50% of the results were considered high quality, according to lead researcher Brent Kitchens (Crane, Gainesville Sun, 4/9). However, the researchers cautioned that consumers could find misleading or incorrect information if their preferred search engine lists lower-quality websites higher in search results (UF release, 4/8).


Kitchens noted that while patients should still see a physician for proper diagnoses and treatment, people should feel safe finding high-quality health information online (Gainesville Sun, 4/9).

Christopher Harle, study co-author and assistant professor at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, said the study shows that providers “may feel more confident that patients can find good health information on the Internet.” He added, “So, rather than recommending patients avoid Internet searches for health information, providers may consider helping patients develop good strategies for recognizing high-quality information over questionable information.”

In addition, the researchers recommended that current online resources be reviewed for quality, and that health care and government organizations share more high-quality data on topics that are lacking accurate data (UF release, 4/8).

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