Mining Google for Integrative Medicine Topics: Lower Yields

October 9, 2019

We at BCCT recently read an article published on the People’s Pharmacy website titled “Is Google censoring drug side effect information?” We actually respect the work and information that the People’s Pharmacy provides, so we took note of the concerns expressed in the article. 

Google has changed its algorithm for searches, which in turn changes the way Google ranks websites.

The gist of it is that Google has changed its algorithm for searches, which in turn changes the way Google ranks websites. “Many health sites have seen a dramatic drop in traffic. The People’s Pharmacy is one of them. Over the last month our traffic is down over 50% thanks to Google’s 2019 Core Update.”1 Apparently another website, MedShadow, which helps people understand the risks and benefits of medicines, has also seen its web traffic plummet since the Google search algorithm has changed.

From what we understand, Google changed its algorithm in order to suppress sites that didn’t seem credible—sites that sold miracle cures and get rich quick schemes. MedShadow sees that their site became part of the fall-out. Perhaps a faulty algorithm. The People’s Pharmacy goes further to question whether or not Google is intentionally suppressing drug side effect information.

Subsequent to the People’s Pharmacy article, we read a blog post by writer, speaker and change agent John Weeks who was deeply concerned by trends he has been seeing and that have been reported to him: in his view, Google and Facebook appear to have “killed access to alternative and integrative medicine.”   He shows a very sobering list of the percent decline in web traffic to such sites as Dr. Weil, GreenMed Info, and even LiveStrong, which all provide evidence-based information on integrative care and natural products. Visits to sites related to integrative and alternative medicine were down by 52 to 98 percent, while the Mayo Clinic and WebMD site traffic was up by about 60 percent and 30 percent, respectively.2

BCCT is not going to weigh in on Google’s or Facebook’s intentions. I would say, however, that even before I read this article, I noticed a change in Google’s listing of websites that have information about drug side effects. 

This certainly changes the way I will search for information on drugs' side effects on Google.

At BCCT, we regularly look up side effects and cautions on many therapies, including drugs. In the past, Google would list a nice smattering of websites with both patient and health professional information. Recently, however, I did a Google search for side effects of a particular drug and the first two pages of sites provided only very basic patient information and mostly encouraged the person to talk to their doctor or pharmacist. It wasn’t until I got to page three of the search that I found one article that provided more substantive information. I tried a new search asking for information for health care professionals on side effects of the drug. I essentially got the same listings on the first page. Finally, I did a search that most patients would not know to do and I asked for the PDR (Physician’s Desk Reference) information on this drug’s side effects—that did yield much more specific information.

This certainly changes the way I will search for information on drugs' side effects on Google. I will also have to remember to look up certain specific reputable websites directly, now that I know they likely will not show up in a Google Search. BCCT will do its best to find and pass on these valuable links and resources to you. We welcome suggestions of credible websites that provide evidence-based, non-commercial information about treatment side effects as well as about integrative medicine.

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Tag: Natural products; herbs; nutrients and supplements

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