By Lisa Zamosky
Perhaps it comes as no surprise to WebMD readers, but people love to look up health information on the Internet.
In fact, according to a 2011 Pew Internet and American Life report, 74% of adults use the Internet, and 80% of them have looked online for health information specific to a disease or treatment.
The result of an online search about a condition or illness, however, depends largely on the search engine you use, according to new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
Researchers from the University of Missouri had volunteers search online for information about breast cancer and evaluated four search engines: Bing, Google, Yahoo!, and Ask.com. Volunteers were asked to rank the websites on a scale of 0 to 10 based on how useful each was in providing breast cancer information, with a score of 10 being an indication of most helpful.
When it comes to usefulness, Bing got the highest scores. Google had the best “search validity,” meaning the highest number of websites shown on the page that could be opened. According to researchers, “This indicates that Google probably updates its database of search results more frequently than other search engines.”
The difference in results represents the different priorities of each search engine:
- Google searches predominantly included websites for the general population (as opposed to researchers or professionals). According to researchers, the content was balanced, mostly from not-for-profit organizations, and contained limited advertising.
- Yahoo! also included websites appropriate for the general population, with advertising kept to a minimum.
- Bing produced cancer information for both the general population and professionals, but showed fewer nonprofit and corporate websites for consumers. It also had more advertisements than Google and Yahoo!
- Ask.com results emphasized nonprofit organization websites. It got big thumbs down from researchers with regard to advertising. “Its ability to control the advertisement information was the worst among the four engines,” researchers wrote.
Online Searches Offer Good Information
Searching for medical information online can be useful for most people, researchers say, and each of the sites tested are helpful in leading people to valuable health information.
“There is no gold standard, and the various search engines each have their own merit,” researchers write. But, they conclude about the various sites: “Google and Bing are more advanced than others.”
Because different search engines bring up different results, particularly when searching for information about an illness as serious as cancer, researchers say exploring multiple search engines for the health information you need is a good idea.
Do you bother using multiple search engines when looking for health information online? What has your experience been? Share your search experience in the comments section below.