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Where is MedlinePlus in Google Drug Search Results?

July 2, 2009

Perhaps my fellow medical librarians recall this differently, but it seems to me that when I do a Google search for a drug, I used to get MedlinePlus drug information as one of my top results. This suited me well, given that MedlinePlus is a National Library of Medicine resource, isn’t trying to sell me anything, and can be relied upon generally for quality information. FDA news and alerts and other expected resources also used to rank fairly high (in my recollection).

Now, when I do drug name searches, I’m getting drug homepages (which I expect), along with things like rxlist, drugs.com, Wikipedia (not bad, generally, but not my last stop if I want to be sure to know about potential interactions, side effects, new warnings, etc.), YouTube, and even about.com (which I’d rather go without information than look at) in the first page of results, but no MedlinePlus. No FDA, either. Obviously this varies by drug – a search for ciprofloxacin did get me MedlinePlus and CDC near the bottom of the first page of results. Similarly in a search for clavulanic acid, MedlinePlus did appear in the first page, and so I wondered if I’m getting the junkier results just for the more common drugs/less technical names. In other cases I clicked through several pages of results without ever seeing a MedlinePlus, FDA, CDC or other semi-reputable source of health information.

Now, I know that Google’s search results technically aren’t returned in order of quality or by lack of omnipresent drug company advertising enticing you to try the latest wonderdrug. I was surprised, though, to do a quick drug search and not find MedlinePlus, FDA, and the like high among the results. It seems to me that the top results in Google drug searches used to generally be for more high quality, reliable, less commercial sites, but that this is not so much the case as present. Anybody else noticed this? Am I imagining things? What’s changed?

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Kimmen permalink
    July 2, 2009 7:56 pm

    I’m sorry, but I’m so suspicious of Google results. My first inclination is to day that NLM hasn’t returned any money to the “do no evil” coffers, so they’ve been kicked down the list….

    Sorry to be so cynical, but the results are so skewed on the G as to be suspect, IMHO

  2. July 5, 2009 12:48 pm

    I was just complaining about this yesterday! It’s completely irritating to have to type in the extra [Medlineplus drugs] or go to [Health Canada DPD] before the actual drug/ingredient name! Google totally loads the top of the search with all sorts of crap websites that mostly just crib info from the drugmaker’s insert anyway. Ugh.

    Just to spite Google, I tried the searches I was doing yesterday (trimebutine, quetiapine) in that newish MSN Bing engine but found the same situation over there. Disappointing to see Google going to the lowest common denominator, though. Wonder what Dean over at the Search Principle blog would say about this? Let’s ping him to see if he’ll sound in.

    For kicks, I also tried trimebutine in Wolfram Alpha, and got rather amusing (and seemingly completely unrelated) results.

    • July 5, 2009 4:18 pm

      Do you think you used to get better results, as well?

    • July 6, 2009 12:26 am

      I’m pretty sure I recall getting MedlinePlus on the first page within the past year…as recently as October.

      I wonder if there’s any way for us to verify that kind of thing?

  3. Jen permalink
    July 6, 2009 9:01 am

    I can vouch for what you’re seeing now and have noticed it myself. I help out at a thyroid message board and look Synthroid up all the time and I almost never get medline back in my first set of results. I just can’t remember for sure if that would’ve been true 6 months ago, although I believe it would have been.

    I am getting similar results for conditions. I just looked up hyperthyroid for my sister and medline is nowhere to be found. I am almost positive that it would’ve been a year ago as well.

    I don’t know if you’d be able to somehow use the Internet Wayback Machine (or contact them to see if such a test is possible) to verify that it’s different now.

  4. July 6, 2009 11:48 pm

    The answer is SEO. And this is why I am convinced that general search engines CANT provide the most reliable information for some sorts of queries.

    • July 7, 2009 8:16 am

      Hmm, you’re probably right. And that creates a dilemma, doesn’t it? Should NLM be spending time/money on SEO? Should Google find better ways to block SEO efforts on quality-sensitive topics like health information? Neither really has a strong incentive to do so, I think.

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