TechSectors: Cut Through the Search Clutter

Doctors, like other professionals, often find themselves wading through page after page of completely irrelevant search results, Web pages, and other content and data as they search for accurate...

Doctors, like other professionals, often find themselves wading through page after page of completely irrelevant search results, Web pages, and other content and data as they search for accurate, up-to-date information with direct relevance to the task at hand, especially patient care-oriented tasks. Although consumer search engines have been, and remain, a boon for most of us, the sheer volume of information returned in a single search can be confusing at best and downright intimidating or altogether misleading at worst.

The Internet is a sophisticated and far-reaching tool; however, unless users enter accurate search criteria, they can waste, rather than save, time. And because of the Internet’s unregulated nature, medical professionals must always take steps to ensure information accuracy and reliability before applying it in a patient care environment. It’s a sad truth, but fraudulent patient testimonials and other misleading information are quite common on the Web. Furthermore, newer developments such as “Wikis” raise even more concerns about Internet-based content reliability.

With that in mind, SearchMedica.com sought to gain a more thorough understanding of how doctors were using the Internet for clinical searches, asking 6,000 doctors representing five specialties their opinions about using the Web. More than 900 responses were generated, providing invaluable insight into how physicians perceived and used common online tools, including search engines. More than 77% of primary care physicians (PCPs) surveyed by SearchMedica said they

turned to the Web frequently to find medical information quickly. Whereas the vast majority of all PCPs predominantly rely on search engines to find clinical information online, an astounding 91% of doctors age 45 years or younger said the same; so, we can only expect future generations of practitioners to be increasingly reliant on search engines.

Among all the specialties surveyed, Google was the search engine of choice among 51% of respondents. When probed as to why there seemed to be a preference for Google over Yahoo or MSN, PCPs claimed it simply appeared to be a good starting point. When asked about the biggest challenge when using Google, 65% of PCPs said such searches returned “too many irrelevant results.” Eighteen percent said there “wasn’t enough clinical information” presented in results. Not surprisingly, doctors want the ability to search for specific, medically accurate, peer-reviewed, current information. In fact, more than 90% expressed real enthusiasm for a search tool that would deliver pre-screened, accurate content from authoritative sources.

When asked what features would be most helpful from such a discipline-specific search engine, more than 85% of respondents said they would like a tool that provided full-text journal articles. More than 90% said they would like access to a tool that provided comprehensive drug-dosing information, in addition to reviews complete with evidence-based medicine citations and applicable authoritative guidelines.

The bottom line is that time-pressed, overworked doctors and other healthcare professionals want better ways to access accurate and current information quickly, with the operative words being “accurate,” “current,” and “quickly.” New technologies address this desire and represent the next generation of search engines for medical professionals, with

SearchMedica.com’s Primary Care, Psychiatry, and Oncology/Hematology search engines leading the way.

Cyndy Finnie is senior product manager for SearchMedica.com, a free, Web-based service that connects physicians and other medical professionals to credible, medical websites and online journals through specialty-specific search engines, including SearchMedica Primary Care, Psychiatry, and Oncology. She can be contacted at cfinnie@cmp.com.