Dr. Google

A study looked at the online searching behaviors of women with breast abnormalities to see whether they trusted the information that they found.

In the day of instant information technology, the first port of call for many of our questions is the internet. When medical questions are being asked, the name Dr. Google has been given to the answers, as though a real-life person is providing the information. But therein lies the problem: the information on the internet does not all come from one person, and rarely is it ever a person that we know who is giving the information. Because of these factors, the element of trust is often missing.

A team of researchers from the School of Health Sciences, University of Surrey, UK, conducted a study to determine the levels of trust and engagement with internet use for medical questions. They hoped to be able to better understand the needs, motivations, and abilities of people using online health information, so that access to this information could be improved. They published their results in Health, Risk & Society.

It was well known to the researchers that breast cancer is one of the most searched for health topics online. A group of 27 women who had breast abnormalities were therefore interviewed.  They were asked whether they had used the internet to find information and if so, whether they had found the information useful. The researchers found that the attitudes and trust for the information differed between the women and this altered how they used the information.

Women with no formal education were found to have lower degrees of trust in the online medical information and were more inclined to discontinue their search and ask their physician. They worried that the information online could lead to misdiagnosis or unnecessary worry about their condition. Other women in the study showed higher levels of confidence in the information and were able to use it to decide what to do.

The researchers conclude that the information available on the internet is not accessible to everyone. They recommend that health professionals should invest greater effort in educating their patients about trustworthy online health resources and to promote endorsed health websites.

Written by Nicola Cribb, VetMB DVSc Dip.ACVS


  1. Marcu A, Black G, Whitaker K. Variations in trust in Dr Google when experiencing potential breast cancer symptoms: exploring motivations to seek health information online. Heal Risk Soc. 2018:1–17. doi:10.1080/13698575.2018.1550742.
  2. Eurekalert! The global source for science news. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-11/uos-hmd112818.php. Last access December 14, 2018.
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