Aim: To assess the reliability and accuracy of medical advice, over a range of types of websites, found using the Google search engine, thus simulating a patient's experience.
Design: Advice was sought for five common paediatric questions using the Google search engine. The first 100 results of each question were classified as either being consistent or inconsistent with current recommendations or as 'no answer given'. Record of the type of site and its visibility was noted.
Results: 39% of the 500 sites searched gave correct information; 11% were incorrect and 49% failed to answer the question. Where an answer was available, 78% of sites gave the correct information. The accuracy of information varied depending on the topic and ranged from 51% (mumps, measles and rubella and autism) to 100% (breast feeding with mastitis/the sleeping position of a baby). Governmental sites gave uniformly accurate advice. News sites gave correct advice in 55% of cases. No sponsored sites were encountered that gave the correct advice.
Implications: The authors have shown that the advice on the internet is very variable. Patients are known to use the internet for their own research and as such the authors encourage healthcare workers to recommend government or NHS websites.