Objective: To determine if people could find patient decision aids (PtDAs) on the Internet using the most popular general search engines.
Methods: We chose five medical conditions for which English language PtDAs were available from at least three different developers. The search engines used were: Google (www.google.com), Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com), and MSN (www.msn.com). For each condition and search engine we ran six searches using a combination of search terms. We coded all non-sponsored Web pages that were linked from the first page of the search results.
Results: Most first page results linked to informational Web pages about the condition, only 16% linked to PtDAs. PtDAs were more readily found for the breast cancer surgery decision (our searches found seven of the nine developers). The searches using Yahoo and Google search engines were more likely to find PtDAs. The following combination of search terms: condition, treatment, decision (e.g. breast cancer surgery decision) was most successful across all search engines (29%).
Conclusion: While some terms and search engines were more successful, few resulted in direct links to PtDAs.
Practice implications: Finding PtDAs would be improved with use of standardized labelling, providing patients with specific Web site addresses or access to an independent PtDA clearinghouse.