CAEP GEMeS | Can Google answer clinical questions?

In Great Evidence in Medical education Summary (GEMeS) by Teresa Chan4 Comments

By April Kam & Teresa Chan

Dr. Thompson was shocked. She had asked her residents to look up a question on orthostatic hypotension and was unhappy to find that they didn’t know the answer. They were able to look it up quickly but she was shocked to hear that they had just “Google’d it” to get the answer! How could Google answer clinical questions?

As clinical teachers, we often meet learners who seem overly reliant on their smart phones. However, few of us have investigated the resources that they are accessing. This “Great Evidence in Medical education Summary” (GEMeS – pronounced “gems”) was originally posted by the CAEP EWG GEMeS Team on September 19, 2014 and answers the question: Can Google answer clinical questions?  Should we be guiding learners towards modern versions of traditional resources (e.g. electronic textbooks)? A PDF version is available here: 2014-09 GEMeS.

Education Question:

Can interns (PGY1s) using Google answer clinical questions with accuracy that is comparable to answers generated via online subscription-based library resources?

Bottom Line:

Yes. Using a Google search interns were able to provide answers with similar accuracy to those found using online subscription-based library resources.  Since Google searches are easier and cheaper than subscription-based services, it may be possible to forego adjunctive library searches for this group and still maintain relatively accurate answers.
Study Design
Randomized, controlled, crossover study.  From 2011-2013.
Funding sources
Internal Medicine program, Rutgers University
Level of Learning
First year interns (Postgraduate year 1, PGY1)
Academic Medicine, Vol 89, No 6, June 2014

Synopsis of Study

To compare the speed and accuracy of answering clinical questions, the investigators randomly assigned 48 interns to use either Google or a summary resources (EBSCO’s DynaMed, Elsevier’s First Consult, Wiley’s Essential Evidence Plus) to answer 480 questions (10 questions a week over 48 weeks). None of the outcomes (time to task completion, response rate, and accuracy) were found to be significantly different.

Why is it relevant to Emergency Medicine Education?

The fast-paced setting of the Emergency Department (ED) requires easy access to point-of-care resources, especially for junior learners.  As such, the accuracy, accessibility and subscription cost of resources are important to consider.

What do you think? Is Google an appropriate resource for junior physicians-in-training?


More About the CAEP GEMeS

This post was originally authored for the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP) Great Evidence in Medical Education Summaries (GEMeS) project sponsored by the CAEP Academic Section’s Education Working Group and edited by Drs. Teresa Chan and Julien Poitras. CAEP members receive GEMeS each month in the CAEP Communiqué. CanadiEM will be reposting some of these summaries, along with a case/contextualizing concept to highlight some recent medical education literature that is relevant to our nation’s teachers.[bg_faq_end]

Teresa Chan

Senior Editor at CanadiEM
Emergency Physician. Medical Educator. #FOAMed Supporter, Producer and Researcher. Chief Strategy Officer of CanadiEM. Associate Professor, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Medicine, McMaster University.
April Kam
April is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics at McMaster Children’s Hospital and the McMaster Evaluations Portfolio Lead for the Pediatric Postgraduate Education Committee.
April Kam

Latest posts by April Kam (see all)