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Using Google™ to Find Health Information

The following tips will help you use Google™ more effectively to find health information online.

1. Make keywords as specific and descriptive as possible

It may be helpful to start with a simple search query to determine if the broad results are relevant and on topic, but descriptions and terms should get more detailed as your search progresses.
For example:
arthritis drug therapy
might be an initial search query but
rheumatoid arthritis abatacept
will produce more "on target" results

2. Word order is important

Remember that the first term(s) you type in are ranked as most important, so word order makes a difference when searching. Also, Google™ looks for your terms as phrases first. Switch the word order to get different results.

3. Use Google™'s Advanced Search page

After you perform an initial basic Google™ search, find the link to "Advanced Search" by selecting the cog icon on the right side of the search results page. The Advanced Search dialog box allows you to do more effective searches. You can search for a phrase and add a set of synonyms for concepts that you want to have in your results. You can also exclude certain terms you would not like returned in your search.
For example:
All of these words: knee pain chronic
This exact word or phrase: rheumatoid arthritis
Any of these words: psoriatic arthritis
None of these words: rheumatoid

Additional options on the Advanced Search page provide more ways to refine your search (for language, region, date, reading level, usage rights, and more).

4. Use other Google™ tools

Google Scholar™ provides a simple way to broadly search for academic materials such as peer-reviewed articles, books, and society and university publications.

Google Books™ can also lead you to these but the contents will usually be older. 

Google Advanced Image Search allows for more effective searching of images by filtering based on several options, similar to the general Advanced Search.

5. Expand your search results

By default, Google™ will include all terms specified in the search box. If you are looking for one or more terms to match, the "OR" operator will look for both. Use all caps for "or."
For example:
complementary OR alternative OR herb OR aromatherapy

To search not only your search term but also for its synonyms, type the tilde (~) sign immediately in front of your search term.
For example:
will retrieve woman, women, female

6. Use a hyphen to pick up variants

You can place a hyphen between two words in order to retrieve the words separated by a space, hyphenated, or as a single word.
For example:
will retrieve health care, health-care, or healthcare.

7. Use medical terms

Using appropriate medical terms will leave out some of the commercial and layperson websites if you want more research or health professional level materials.
For example:
use the word neoplasm rather than cancer
use the word influenza rather than flu

8. Limit your search to trustworthy sites

Select the Advanced Search option and choose a domain name that can give trustworthy limited results, such as .gov, .edu, .org. You can also put a trustworthy url in the domain box. If you put in the site or domain box, for example, your word(s) or phrases will be pulled from PubMed, a database from the National Library of Medicine.

9. Search for a specific information source

If you want to limit your search to a certain medical source that produces quality information, you can type this in the search box (topic before source).
For example:
influenza cdc (for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
arthritis nih (for National Institutes of Health)

10. Carefully evaluate your search results

A Google search will return both sponsored and natural results. Search engines rank natural results according to text on the website, overall website content, and links to and from other websites, to name a few criteria. In Google searches, sponsored results appear at the top at the top and along the right-hand side of the search results page and are identified as "Ads." Providers of these sponsored links have paid for the privilege of being placed at the top of the search results. Do not reject these links because they are sponsored, but do not limit your search to these either.

Remember that most online information is free – be wary of any website that charges a fee and NEVER provide personal contact information or financial account information unless you have confirmed a website’s legitimacy.


Page authored by Fran Allegri, Health Sciences Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.