We rely on the Internet to get the latest news, stock quotes, and sports scores; conduct online banking; and purchase goods and services from vendors worldwide. Thanks to e-mail and wireless Internet connections, we’re never out of contact for too long; in fact, many of us now stay in touch with our offices and even our patients 24/7.
The Internet allows us to access CME (continuing medical education) on demand—including live streaming video—and use knowledge-based medical information services, such as Micromedix
, and UpToDate
. Vast amounts of medical information are available on the Web, enabling us to look up clinical articles and information on drugs and clinical syndromes.
Our patients do the same thing, often using the ever-popular and highly productive search engine Google
. Google was created by two Stanford students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who in 1996 developed BackRub
, a search engine that analyzed back links (the number of Web links that point to a particular website). From there they introduced the unique concept of ranking pages based on how many other pages link to it (when you do a Google search, the pages with the most links pointing to them are higher up in the results list). With an investment from Andy Bechtolsheim (a founder of Sun Microsystems, Inc.
) and others, Google, Inc. was founded in September 1998.
Since then, the company has steadily improved on its search engine technology in an effort to streamline the search process and ensure search queries return the most relevant and useful information (for example, if you think Bechtolsheim’s name is misspelled, just check for yourself; in fact, try misspelling it, and Google will correct you).Start Your Engines
Search engines are arguably most valuable because they enable users to quickly find information on a variety of medical and non-medical topics. Many of us have slipped into the habit of using Google as a medical search engine to identify drugs, find articles, and even point patients toward references for their own edification. More often than not, when prescribing a new drug or making a new diagnosis, I will ask my patient if he or she is Web savvy and then send him or her to the Internet for a quick review of the literature prior to a return visit to initiate therapy. It saves time, informs the patient, and is generally reliable; hardly ever are you confronted with bad information that takes the patient off track and takes extra time to explain.
It is also not very difficult to locate a colleague almost anywhere in the world for consultation, referral, or communication using
Google or any other popular search engine. In fact, it is downright scary to realize how much information is available on the Web. Just recently, one of my colleagues from the west coast required a formal letter from me inviting him to participate in a CME program. It took only seconds to Google him and find his e-mail address and phone number, and to find out what he has been up to and what transitions have occurred in his career.
If you really want to give yourself a wake-up call, open up Google and type in a few-word description of yourself and your specialty. Did you realize there was that much information about you online?Google Expands
Much like the original Google, Google Scholar provides a simple way to rapidly search for information, but narrows the target information to include only scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: peer-reviewed papers, books, abstracts, and articles from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities, and other scholarly organizations. Still in beta testing though very robust, Google Scholar identifies the most relevant information across the world of scholarly research. It “aims to sort articles the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each article, the author, the publication in which the article appears, and how often the piece has been cited in other scholarly literature.”
The most relevant results will always appear on the first page. Use Google Scholar
to “search diverse sources from one convenient place; find papers, abstracts, and citations; locate the complete paper through your library or on the Web; and learn about key papers in any area of research.”Google Health
is Google’s newest directory, providing up-to-date products, medical reviews, and access to overall health information listed by category (eg, Men’s Health, Addictions, Weight Loss, etc). Google Health lists related Web pages in Google’s typical page-rank fashion, by total number of hits per page. Google Health takes your standard search and breaks it down into more precise categories, until you have an exact match:
> Conditions and Diseases
> > Cancer
> > > Breast
> > > > Organizations