How To Google Your Health Symptoms The Right Way According To Experts

With the internet always within reach of our fingertips, it's become easier than ever to pull up Google and look up any and all information at a moment's notice — including information related to our health. In fact, health-related internet searches have become so rampant that it's now the subject of scientific studies. For example, a 2017 study surveyed 723 patients and found that nearly 25% of participants reported using the internet as the determining factor prior to seeking emergency room care. Furthermore, healthcare companies actually measure website traffic to help predict emergency room numbers.

While easy access to information can be a helpful tool, it can also cause harm. Extreme anxiety that arises from seeking out medical information online is a condition known as cyberchondria (via PsychCentral). While not formally listed as a mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), these individuals experience significant emotional distress, which some physicians feel is caused unnecessarily due to misinformation (per HuffPost). 

But now, health experts are weighing in on ways to reduce anxiety by following a few best practices.

Be mindful of sources and search terms

Health experts suggest the key to better health information is to choose your sources wisely. Rather than starting with an expansive Google search, try sourcing primarily from major health organizations, hospitals, and universities. Such examples include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mayo Clinic, or the Cleveland Clinic, according to HuffPost.

If you're looking for evidence-based research, peer-reviewed medical journals containing scientific studies can also be a reliable source of information (per HuffPost). However, be sure to consider factors such as sample size and any study limitations, which are often explicitly laid out towards the end of the research paper near the conclusion section.

It's also important to be mindful of your search terms. An anonymous nurse practitioner spoke with Healthline using the example of a Google search worded disjointedly as, "pain stomach dying?". With this wording, your search results may only yield stomach pains associated with dying. While carefully selecting your search terms, also note how the search results make you feel, HuffPost reports. Stress, panic, and anxiety are all signs that you may be better served by directly speaking to a healthcare professional.

There's definitely value in patients learning about their health, and research shows that quality of care improves for patients who self-educate (via Healthline). When you speak with your doctor, it can help to share the research you found, including source names, studies, or facilities. This can help your doctor better address your concerns.