Searching for Health Information Online Dangerous

Reading time: 3 – 4 minutes

Approximately eight million Americans search for health information online every day [1]. However, the information those health seekers are reading may not be very healthy at all. A new study by the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest recently reported that the information prominently displayed in search engine results was not only misleading and confusing, but dangerous for patients [2]. Case in point: using two safe and effective prescription medications (Crestor and Avandia) as an example, nearly 65% of the first three pages of Google search results came from sites that were biased or contained unverified information. Add to this the fact that most search engine users click on a result within the first three pages of search results [3] and people searching for health information online are likely to be viewing websites that aren’t credible or trustworthy.

At Highlight HEALTH 2.0, guest writer Matthew Krajewski focuses on the importance of information categorization and online health search. In his article Health Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0, Matthew discusses health search in the context of internet technology trends. His article echoes the difficulty with search engines today:

Standard search results will require a user to determine for themselves what is a trustworthy source and what is plain spam. RightHealth treats the categorization of health information much like how an editorial health site would treat their articles: insuring results are relevant, trustworthy and of value to the end user.

I wrote about The Trust and Credibility of Healthcare Blogs last year and discussed the Health On the Net (HON) Foundation, a non-profit organization that is attempting to guide the growing community of healthcare providers and consumers on the World Wide Web to sound, reliable medical information and expertise through quality assessment and systematic and stringent peer review. Both Highlight HEALTH and the Highlight HEALTH Web Directory are HONcode accredited.

When searching for health information online, be sure to look for credibility seals, such as accreditation from HON or URAC. Make sure the health information you find is dated and cites references. Ask yourself, does the website link to other sources of credible information? Remember that health information found online is only valuable when that information is correct.

Additional health search resources can be found in theHighlight HEALTH Web Directory.


  1. Fox S. Online Health Search 2006: Most internet users start at a search engine when looking for health information online. Very few check the source and date of the information they find. Washington (DC): Pew Internet and American Life Project. 2006 Oct 29.
  2. Goldberg et al. Insta-Americans: The Empowered (and Imperiled) Health Care Consumer in the Age of Internet Medicine. The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest. 2008 Jan.
  3. iProspect Search Engine User Behavior Study. iProspect. 2006 Apr.
About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.