Technology has been a net gain for patients seeking reliable healthcare information, but receiving reliable results from internet search remains a challenge.

As far as internet rabbit holes go, searches of personal health issues are perhaps the most pernicious.

Technology has been a boon to healthcare transparency, enabling access to health records, patient portals, and evidence-based treatment guidance.

But, unfortunately, a standard internet search is a much more common usage of recent technological advances.

And once people feel like they have their answers from a search, they are less likely to make use of the trustworthy digital tools that will really help them.

What happens when an internet search is the primary digital tool a patient uses to learn about their symptoms and ailments? Here are the top four most common pitfalls.

1. Conflated symptoms

Many people will use symptom-based search terms to initiate healthcare searches. But many of the symptoms associated with both serious and common ailments are identical. So you have folks with a headache and nausea reading about everything from migraines to strokes.

This is shown to increase anxiety.

The Return to Health platform is an effective antidote because it also starts at the symptom level, but instead of a glut of overwhelming information, users are given evidence-based guidance about treatment options, effectiveness, cost, and recovery time.

2. Barraging your doctor with your findings

Doctors allot a certain amount of time per visit with each patient. It’s ill-advised to usurp a chunk of that time talking about what you found through your own internet research.

Instead of forcing your provider to first debunk bad information before getting to the guidance he or she can provide to really address your concerns, it is advantageous to begin the discussion with more targeted, evidence-based information.

3. Consider the Source

Popular search engines continuously change their algorithms and don’t share the details with the general public so what determines which content rises to the top of search results is not necessarily based on its relevance or accuracy.

The most useful information from the most reputable source may be on the third page of results – which is almost never seen by the searcher. It’s important to keep all of this in mind when using the internet to search for information about ailments, symptoms, treatments, best practices, etc.

It’s always important to consider the source and understand that the information that can be found in a matter of seconds may not be the best information that is actually available.

4. Outdated content

Patients searching with the urgency of believing they have a health problem may not be attuned to the publication date of the information they are consuming. In some cases, online information has no apparent publication date.

Is the information up-to-date with the latest medical thinking? Is newer information available? This is hard for online searchers to discern.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 90 percent of the Wikipedia entries related to health have multiple errors. Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website in the world and is often among the top search results for health care-related queries. This is an ominous combination of statistics.

Technology has generally improved patient access to reliable healthcare information through innovative apps and trusted patient portals, such as Return to Health. But internet searches remain a persistent problem for the industry to overcome.

Let us know what you think.

Thank you,

Max Kahn

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