ChangeMedEd Initiative

Consulting Dr. Google? Why you shouldn’t do it in medical school

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

As a medical student set to graduate in the 2020s, you have come of age in an era in which information is more plentiful and more easily available than any era that preceded it. When it comes to your medical training, however, are you able to determine where to access the best information and how to use it?

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A session at a national medical education conference explored the topic of digital information literacy. Senthil Kumar Rajasekaran, MD, was one of the session’s co-presenters.

An associate dean for academic affairs and professor in the physiological sciences department at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS)—a member of the AMA Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium—Dr. Rajasekaran offered four tips for medical students when it comes to sourcing and accessing medical information.

Simply put: You’re not getting the best information by typing a query into Google. The best information for students, in terms of both academic growth and providing care, is going to come from peer-reviewed journal articles, which are edited and validated by physicians prior to publication. Peer-reviewed articles offer reliability in their vetting process, particularly when compared with open-sourced websites such as Wikipedia.

“Many of the online sources that aren’t peer reviewed are either out of date or funded by pharmaceutical companies,” Dr. Rajasekaran said at ChangeMedEd® 2019. “We’re looking for peer accountability in an article.”

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To find information, Dr. Rajasekaran recommends apps such as DynaMed Plus, PEPID, The Medical Letter and MicroMedX, which many medical schools offer students access to for free. DynaMed Plus is complimentary for AMA members and JAMA Network™ subscribers.

“These are consensus reports, and they scan the internet to review multiple articles and then they offer papers and analysis that look into hundreds of studies, Dr. Rajasekaran said. “This is the type of information we, as faculty members, should be guiding medical students to.”

If you’re using a smartphone in a classroom or clinical setting it’s important to establish that you are indeed doing so to attain information relevant to the situation.

“We have to educate a student to seek permission from a patient to use a phone,” Dr. Rajasekaran said. “They should let the patient know that they are using the phone to provide diagnostic information. Students may use their phone with the best of intentions, but if they don’t communicate clearly that they are looking for the latest evidence, a patient may take it as an insult and lose trust.”

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When you begin clinical rotations, you are likely leaving the medical school for a hospital or clinical setting. The network that allows you to access your most trusted sources in that setting is likely to be a different one than the one that you have access to in medical school. Understanding where and how to get information before you begin working with patients is of vital importance.

“When the hospital is onboarding them, as a medical student, you should be up front about asking how to access information that will help you care for patients,” Dr. Rajasekaran said. “Getting that information— and all the settings and apps downloaded before they are with patients—will be really helpful. If you don’t, that’s how you fall back into the habit of not getting the right information and using Google and getting information that is not peer-reviewed.”