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Canadians, Americans Get Different Drug Info in Web Searches

White pills in a prescription bottle (


A research team at University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada report that Canadians and Americans get much different search results when they look up prescription drug information online. Their findings were published yesterday in the online issue of the Annals of Pharmacotherapy (paid subscription required).

The researchers found residents of the United States searching on Google for both brand and generic drug names get directed to the pages published by National Library of Medicine, part of the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH). However, Canadians performing the same searches end up on Wikipedia for generic drug searches, and drug company sites for brand searches.

One reason for the difference in search results is a 2010 partnership between Google and NIH, which returns NIH-sponsored drug information pages from National Library of Medicine more prominently for searches by U.S. audiences. Canadian residents using for their searches, on the other hand, returned Wikipedia or industry pages. Previous research has found some problems with the information on Wikipedia, and in the drug information produced and distributed by pharmaceutical companies.

For U.S. Web searchers, the search engine used does make a difference. U.S. residents using Bing and Yahoo were led to Wikipedia pages or industry-sponsored sites more often, rather than the NIH/National Library of Medicine pages returned by Google.

Michael Law, UBC health policy professor and the lead author of the study, notes that nature of Web searches for drug information shows the importance of the information returned from those searches. “The most viewed drug pages on the Internet are those with the potential for addiction, like Oxycodone,” says Law, as well as “drugs for stigmatized conditions, such as antidepressants.”

Read more: Survey: Workers Use Employer Health Plan for Medical Info

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