Should you search the internet for information about your acute symptom?

Frederick North, William J. Ward, Prathibha Varkey, Sidna M. Tulledge-Scheitel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Objective: To determine if symptom-related Web sites give sufficient information for users to seek urgent care when warranted. Materials and Methods: We reviewed 120 Web sites (15 sites for each of eight acute symptoms). Symptom-related sites were identified with Google, Yahoo! ®, and Bing™ searches and focused on potentially hazardous symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, and syncope. We reviewed each symptom-related site for the presence of critical symptom indicators (key symptom characteristics and associated factors) that triage the user to urgent care. Results: Of the 120 sites reviewed, 41 (33%) contained no critical symptom indicators. No site contained a complete set of critical symptom indicators. Overall, out of the 1,020 total critical symptoms searched for in the sites, we only found 329 (32%). When present, critical symptom indicators were found on the top half of the first page of the site in only 34%. Specific recommendations for further care were absent in 42% of the cases where critical symptom indicators were identified. Conclusions: Symptom-related sites ranked highly by major search engines lack much of the information needed to make a decision about whether a symptom needs urgent attention. When present, this information is usually not located where users can rapidly access it and often lacks prescriptive guidance for users to seek care. Until more sites contain at least minimal triage advice, relying on an Internet search to help determine the urgency of a symptom could be risky.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-218
Number of pages6
JournalTelemedicine and e-Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2012


  • e-health
  • telehealth
  • telemedicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Health Information Management


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