Fondazione Zoé
When I called the patient back I found out she believed that the administering of her medicine had been interrupted because of economic reasons, an opinion she became convinced of after doing numerous searches on the Internet.
In reality I knew that in the medium-long term the drug she was given could cause serious side effects and that for her, a 50-year-old female affected by a chronic disease, avoiding the side effects was essential.

However, the conversation put a bug in my ear: for the first time I had directly experienced the fact that today’s relationship between the patient and the doctor is affected by an uncontrollable variable: the Internet.
From that moment on, my team and I started searching the literature for earlier research which had previously dealt with the problem. The results of our research showed a lot of data concerning “institutional users” of the Internet (such as doctors and students), but only a few works which dealt with the new relationship between an “ordinary patient” and the Internet.

We therefore decided to do a simple enquiry: we verified what kind of websites result when a user of the Internet enters a medical key-word in one of the two major Internet search engines: Google and Yahoo.
The results of our search confirmed some of doubts we had and led to the reflections that are the subject of this article.

Materials and methods

First, we picked up four words linked to four pathologies; three of them are wide-spread, while the fourth is rare. The first three are: “hypertension”, “anxiety” and “diabetes”. The last one is “xeroderma pigmentosum”.

Second, we examined the top ten results given by the two search engines, Google and Yahoo, and considered also the different results obtained by googling the words in various countries’ pages.

We analyzed into the following categories the nature of the websites shown in the results: institutional (scientific societies, scientific journals, government agencies, universities websites); popular (patients associations, non-scientific publications, popular websites like Wikipedia and more general websites which are intended to inform the users about pathologies without guaranteeing them a scientific source); sponsored websites (commercial websites: pharmaceutical companies, on-line drug sellers, etc. ).

The research was done using six versions of both Google and Yahoo: English, American, French, Spanish, German and Italian. We tried to examine other countries, but language made a precise analysis impossible.

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