October 06, 2021

Libby Baney Discusses Consumer Search Habits for Online Health Information With Forbes

Forbes shared findings from a PatientsLikeMe survey on how Americans seek healthcare information on the internet, including social media and search engines. Government and regulatory affairs partner Libby Baney spoke to the publication about what patients should consider when looking for medical resources online.

According to the data from PatientsLikeMe, the publication reported that 11% of respondents said they turn to social media when looking for reliable health information, but only 2% trust social media for health information. Further, nearly one-quarter said they use search engines to evaluate new treatment options, while 29% use search engines for medication side effect information.

However, Baney, senior adviser to the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP Global), explained that search engines might not be the best source of information, either. “There is no real internet truth when it comes to search results,” she said.

A July survey conducted by ASOP Global showed that 72% of Americans believe that top search results in healthcare-related searches should be verified, but Baney noted that it is difficult to know if that is happening or not. “People are going on the internet and, in some cases, blindly trusting what they find,” she said.

Baney also mentioned that consumers have not been trained to discern what’s trustworthy information or not based on search engine results. Many people simply assume that whatever websites show up at the top of Google’s results must have been vetted. “Consumers are really struggling to parse legitimacy from science versus science fiction,” she stated. “We can’t expect patients to educate themselves out of the algorithm.”

Overall, Baney suggested that consumers need to think differently about health information online compared to other types of information. “It gets riskier in healthcare, and we haven’t done a [great] job distinguishing healthcare from other things,” she said. For example, “Buying a prescription drug for myself is different than buying a show on the internet.”

The full article is available for Forbes subscribers.

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