How good is Google? The quality of Otolaryngology information on the internet

Article and accompanying podcast

From: Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

The use of the Internet to seek information about health-related topics by patients has and will continue to grow at a rapid pace. This article questions the quality of medical information a person will look at on the internet and if it is even a good idea to look up medical information on the internet. When asked in the accompanying  podcast what inspired this article, the lead author replied “the amount of patients that I had met with and had pre-opted for surgery who had said I’ve looked this up and brought in information, had brought in print-outs from different sources they found on the internet…and I basically wanted to get a good feel for what they were looking at and what the quality of information on the sites they were looking at.”

To assess the quality of information on the internet, the authors of this article performed Google keyword searches of the ten most commonly treated otolaryngologic diseases. Once this was completed, they used a brief questionnaire to assess the quality of these websites. It was observed that none were perfect and left many questions unanswered. “The biggest thing is that the doctor just needs to stay in the loop and [the doctor] needs to be aware of the fact that the great majority of patients who come in will do their prior research of the disease even before coming to see the doctor.”

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Article details
Max D. Pusz, & Scott E. Brietzke (2012). How Good Is Google?
The Quality of Otolaryngology Information on the Internet Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, 147 (3) : 10.1177/0194599812447733


Objective To assess the quality of the information a patient (parent) may encounter using a Google search for typical otolaryngology ailments.

Study Design Cross-sectional study.

Setting Tertiary care center.

Methods A Google keyword search was performed for 10 common otolaryngology problems including ear infection, hearing loss, tonsillitis, and so on. The top 10 search results for each were critically examined using the 16-item (1-5 scale) standardized DISCERN instrument. The DISCERN instrument was developed to assess the quality and comprehensiveness of patient treatment choice literature.

Results A total of 100 Web sites were assessed. Of these, 19 (19%) were primarily advertisements for products and were excluded from DISCERN scoring. Searches for more typically chronic otolaryngic problems (eg, tinnitus, sleep apnea, etc) resulted in more biased, advertisement-type results than those for typically acute problems (eg, ear infection, sinus infection, P = .03). The search for “sleep apnea treatment” produced the highest scoring results (mean overall DISCERN score = 3.49, range = 1.81-4.56), and the search for “hoarseness treatment” produced the lowest scores (mean = 2.49, range = 1.56-3.56). Results from major comprehensive Web sites (WebMD,, Wikipedia, etc.) scored higher than other Web sites (mean DISCERN score = 3.46 vs 2.48, P < .001).

Conclusion There is marked variability in the quality of Web site information for the treatment of common otolaryngologic problems. Searches on more chronic problems resulted in a higher proportion of biased advertisement Web sites. Larger, comprehensive Web sites generally provided better information but were less than perfect in presenting complete information on treatment options.

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