“Just Google it” has shifted from a colloquialism spoken within small circles to an expression used ubiquitously around the world, so much so that Google, Inc. pleaded the public ten years ago to only use their name when referring to the company to avoid losing its trademark status. Despite the company’s efforts, no one seems to be immune to the spread of Google as a verb rather than a noun, even physicians. Though the expression can sometimes be received with a negative connotation (I can recall frustrated accounts from classmates of professors telling them to Google the answer to questions), utilizing digital search engines is an effective means of accessing information quickly.

An annual survey by CMI/Compas breaks down just how frequently today’s physicians use search engines – most often Google – in their day-to-day work. FiercePharma provided a nice summary of the results.

  • More than 70% of physicians use search engines ≥ 1 time per day
  • Oncologists search most frequently, with 46% searching 4 or more times daily

CMI/Compas also analyzed information-gathering behaviors across the six different specialty areas of primary care, as seen in their chart below.

Physicians' likelihood of using different sources. (CMI Media)

Physicians’ likelihood of using different sources. (CMI Media)

Time appears to be the biggest factor influencing physician’s information-gathering behaviors. When faced with less pressing matters, physicians across the board resort to more “traditional” methods: medical journals, electronic databases, peers and colleagues, etc. However, when an answer must be produced within minutes, online search engines become the primary method of finding necessary information. Even when time isn’t an issue, digital methods still trump the physical options. The increasing availability of reliable clinical and empirical data through online search engines may be influencing this trend, as well as the general ease of use of the search function on a handy electronic device (phone, tablet, etc.) The influence this is having on the medical device and pharmaceutical industry are vast. What is the role of dedicated applications to enhance search on manufacturers’ products? How will physicians increasingly use data fed to them over the internet from their patients’ wearable tech? How do diagnostic companies develop solutions to help them diagnose over the internet?

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