How to improve health information online for our patients
Recommending trustworthy sites can help address problems with quality, quantity of information
What websites patients are visiting
Table 1 shows the top 10 health websites (March 2016) patients visit from their Google searches.
A recent study in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society (2015; 12:961-5) looked at the top eight health information websites seen by people with chronic lung diseases—asthma, COPD, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis—when they searched in February 2015. Their assessment? Sites were promotional, educational, or a combination of the two. WebMD and Mayo Clinic’s websites were described this way: “both sites… include advertisements about specific asthma medications. The Mayo Clinic site includes the ability to schedule an appointment with a health care provider, pay medical bills, and make a donation. WebMD offers viewers the opportunity to subscribe to a newsletter featuring health-related topics.”
Further, the authors stated that Healthline “includes prominent advertising at the top of the screen for pharmaceutical products, a hotel chain, and a clothing store.” Medscape (not part of the top 10 list but associated with WebMD) also had “prominent” advertisements.
A quick check of the first five websites that came up during a Google search (March 9, 2016) of benign prostatic hyperplasia, erectile dysfunction, prostate cancer, and urinary incontinence is shown in table 2. As you can see, WebMD is in the top five for 75% of these searches. Healthline is also in the top five for resources for erectile dysfunction. Many of these website resources are supported by advertisers.