Like patients, medical students turn to Google, not textbooks, for information

Medical education
Only 7% of medical students turn to medical textbooks when looking for information, according to a Merck Manuals survey.

Patients frequently consult with "Dr. Google" for medical information. So why shouldn't medical students? A small survey found that, indeed, medical students are turning to Google and medical websites even before they crack a textbook.

Merck Manuals released the findings of a survey of 180 medical and premedical students that revealed when looking up medical topics, nearly half of students (47%) first look to Google for answers. But it’s not always easy to know how reliable the information is. Some 83% of respondents said that confirming the credibility of a source is one of the primary obstacles they face when searching for medical information online, according to the company.

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“In days past, the only resources were massive physician-authored textbooks and the well-curated contents of medical libraries. Then, the validity of these resources never crossed students’ minds (price and weight, perhaps, but never accuracy),” the publisher said. In fact, The Merck Manual, first published in 1899, was a staple on doctors’ book shelves for generations.

The text has gone digital, with the final print edition of the book published in 2011.

Here are some other findings from the survey:

  • Sixty-eight percent of students received their first cellphone by the time they were 14 years old, so online tools are ingrained in their study habits.
  • Nearly one in three go online or use a mobile device to search for medical information more than 20 times a day.
  • Only 7% first turn to a print textbook for information.

“We live in a high-speed world,” said one Florida student who participated in the survey. “In the time it takes me to walk through a library door, I could have already downloaded exactly what I needed on my phone.”

A 2016 study also found that more than even patients with health questions are looking for answers from online communities or search engines, but knowing who or what to trust was not always easy.