5 Smart Tips to Find Good Health Information Online

The internet can be a great way to get some answers—if you approach your search the right way.

woman researching medical information on computer

Medically reviewed in September 2022

Updated on September 6, 2022

The next patient I was scheduled to see had an extremely rare form of brain tumor. Age? 31.

Let me rephrase that—what I soon learned was that my patient had Googled her symptoms. And what did Dr. Google suggest? A cerebellar liponeurocytoma—not only an uncommon issue, but one that’s not usually diagnosed until someone is in their 40s.

After a more thorough discussion and evaluation, we found the real probable issue. My patient was diagnosed with a complex migraine, given medications, and scheduled for a follow-up appointment with a neurologist. She left me much more relieved than when she had arrived.

Now, I'm fully in support of patients being as informed as possible, but it's important to consider your sources. That brings us to the question: Where do you get your health information? Your healthcare provider (HCP)? Your best friend? Dr. Google?

If you answered "Dr. Google" you're not alone. The vast majority of us hop online for answers to our healthcare questions. Even physicians will turn to the internet for a quick summary of some medical information. In fact, a Google executive revealed in 2019 that the search engine fields more than 1 billion health-related searches every day—or, about 70,000 every minute. 

Though it never hurts to do some research, you must always consider the quality of the information you’re getting. The data may be old, incomplete, or from questionable sources. You wouldn't trust your mailman to treat your urinary tract infection, would you? So why would you trust an unverified site for your health information?

How to get reliable health information online
The internet can be a fantastic resource. But when it comes to information about your health, choose your sources wisely. Start by following these tips:

Go to the pros. Turn to sites that rely on trusted health professionals for their content. These would include medical centers such as the Mayo Clinic, universities such as Harvard Medical School, institutions like the American Cancer Society or the American Academy of Pediatrics and companies with physicians and medical professionals reviewing their content. (Sharecare is one such site, of course.)

Begin your search online—but don’t end it there. Use the information that you find on the internet as a starting point to a discussion with your HCP rather than the definitive answer to your question.

Check dates. Medicine moves fast, and information that was correct and up to date 10 years ago may be outdated this year. Whenever possible, consult sources published, updated, or reviewed within the last five years.

Don’t jump to conclusions. The Internet is great for finding even the rarest of illnesses. What does that mean for you? Consider the frequency of the condition before convincing yourself that you're the fifth case in the entire world.

Be especially cautious about medication information. Searching the internet for drug dosages and side effects can be risky. When you're looking, use reliable, current sources and make sure that you're getting the full picture—one that includes a discussion with a provider.

An educated patient is a healthier patient. But save yourself some time and aggravation by seeking out the most reliable sources—and ignoring the rest.

Article sources open article sources

Deora H, Prabhuraj AR, et al. Cerebellar Liponeurocytoma: A Rare Fatty Tumor and its Literature Review. J Neurosci Rural Pract. 2019 Apr-Jun;10(2):360-363.
Gembruch O, Junker A, et al. Cerebellar liponeurocytoma – a rare entity: a case report. Journal of Medical Case Reports. 12, Article number: 170 (2018).
Susanna Fox and Maeve Duggan. Information Triage. Pew Research Center. January 15, 2013.
Evok Advertising. 1 Billion Searches a Day: How Your Patients Look for Medical Information Online. Accessed September 6, 2022.
Margi Murphy. 1 Billion Searches a Day: How Your Patients Look for Medical Information Online. The Telegraph UK. March 10, 2019.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Health Information on the Web. April 4, 2018.
MD Anderson Center. How to find the best health information online. April 2016.
MedlinePlus. Evaluating Health Information. Last updated Apri 1, 2022.

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