What did you google? Describing online health information search patterns of ED patients and their relationship with final diagnoses

Danielle M. McCarthy*, Grant N. Scott, D. Mark Courtney, Alyssa Czerniak, Amer Z. Aldeen, Stephanie Gravenor, Scott M. Dresden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Introduction: Emergency department (ED) patients' Internet search terms prior to arrival have not been well characterized. The objective of this analysis was to characterize the Internet search terms patients used prior to ED arrival and their relationship to final diagnoses. Methods: We collected data via survey; participants listed Internet search terms used. Terms were classified into categories: Symptom, specific diagnosis, treatment options, anatomy questions, processes of care/physicians, or "other." We categorized each discharge diagnosis as either symptombased or formal diagnosis. The relationship between the search term and final diagnosis was assigned to one of four categories of search/diagnosis combinations (symptom search/symptom diagnosis, symptom search/formal diagnosis, diagnosis search/symptom diagnosis, diagnosis search/formal diagnosis), representing different "trajectories." Results: We approached 889 patients; 723 (81.3%) participated. Of these, 177 (24.5%) used the Internet prior to ED presentation; however, seven had incomplete data (N=170). Mean age was 47 years (standard deviation 18.2); 58.6% were female and 65.7% white. We found that 61.7% searched symptoms and 40.6% searched a specific diagnosis. Most patients received discharge diagnoses of equal specificity as their search terms (34% flat trajectory-symptoms and 34% flat trajectory-diagnosis). Ten percent searched for a diagnosis by name but received a symptom-based discharge diagnosis with less specificity. In contrast, 22% searched for a symptom and received a detailed diagnosis. Among those who searched for a diagnosis by name (n=69) only 29% received the diagnosis that they had searched. Conclusion: The majority of patients used symptoms as the basis of their pre-ED presentation Internet search. When patients did search for specific diagnoses, only a minority searched for the diagnosis they eventually received.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)928-936
Number of pages9
JournalWestern Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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