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The Patient Will See Dr Google Now

Almost 50 million health-related searches were made by people in the UK using Google over a recent 12-month period, according to an analysis of data from the popular search engine.

Internet searches for cancer were excluded from the study, which left diabetes as the most searched health topic, followed closely by diarrhoea.

Anxiety, schizophrenia, and depression also featured in the top 10 list of conditions 'googled', as were specific women's health issues - endometriosis and menopause.

The analysis was made by not-for-profit mutual society Benenden Healthcare using search volumes for November 2021 to October 2022 obtained from Google’s keyword planner. Up to 400 unique search queries related to 27 of the UK's most common health problems were analysed for the research. The topics were split into seven categories, with the top three issues analysed in each.

Diabetes Topped Most Searched List

The 10 health topics most searched during the period, including the total for the 12 months, were:

  1. Diabetes (3,078,000)
  2. Diarrhoea (3,007,000)
  3. Endometriosis (2,701,000)
  4. Pneumonia (2,215,000)
  5. Anxiety (1,642,500)
  6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (2,370,500)
  7. Menopause (2,057,000)
  8. Schizophrenia (1,331,000)
  9. Arthritis (1,056,000)
  10. Depression (1,195,000)

Cheryl Lythgoe, matron at Benenden Health, said, "It's of little surprise to see that physical health is leading the way as one of the most search for health terms, as throughout the COVID-19 pandemic many people have become more conscious of their health. What's concerning is the apparent reliance on Google for this information, possibly leading to an incorrect self-diagnosis or panic.

"When there's a long wait for doctor's appointments it's easy to get impatient and the ability to self-diagnose via the internet can for some be too tempting. If you are looking for advice online, I would recommend visiting trusted sources such as the NHS website as a first port of call to ensure the advice is from experts and more likely to be accurate. However, at the first signs of illness, it's always best to consult a pharmacist or a GP. This will ensure the correct treatment, if necessary, is sought."

Benenden Health did not include searches for cancer in its analysis because of the large variance in different cancer types which it said "would have impacted the results in other categories and not shown a true picture". Also, the figures only included searches for health information specifically made via Google, and the raw nature of the data meant it was not clear whether searches were made because of health worries or for any other reason. 

As internet use has boomed in recent years, so have concerns that online searches could be directed to unreliable advice on health, whilst turning to 'Dr Google' could also lead to unnecessary anxiety, or 'cyberchondria'. Those concerns led Google to announce in 2020 that it would make it easier for people to find authoritative sources through 'knowledge panels', with information from the NHS website, displayed prominently on search pages.