Google's Related Medications Feature Can't Replace Pharmacists

Google's new related medications feature might lead patients to mistakenly believe that they don't need to seek drug information from their pharmacist.

Google’s new related medications feature might lead patients to mistakenly believe that they don’t need to seek drug information from their pharmacist.

When an individual uses the search engine to investigate a particular drug, related medications may now appear directly below the standard medical knowledge panel. If one of the related medications is clicked, the user is redirected to the medical knowledge panel for that drug.

Here’s an example:

In this instance, searching “ibuprofen” through Google triggered the related medications feature, which listed other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as bromfenac (Xibrom), meloxicam (Mobic), and mefenamic acid (Ponstel).

Although this function is not yet available for all medications, searching for many of the best-selling brand-name drugs in the United States—including Lyrica, Januvia, Nexium, Crestor, Abilify, and Humira—will trigger the related medications feature. Interestingly, the majority of the most-advertised drugs—including Cialis, Viagra, Latuda, Celebrex, and Chantix—also have the feature.

More than one-third of US adults regularly use the Internet to self-diagnose, so giving patients greater access to accurate information about their medications may empower them to play an enhanced role in their own care. However, Internet searches should not replace pharmacists, who still play a critical role in helping patients sort through and comprehend the drug information they find online.

Nevertheless, providing patients with more information about their medication options is objectively a good thing, and Google’s related medications feature highlights the search engine’s commitment to providing accurate medical information. In a blog post, Google said it has blocked more than 12.5 million unregulated drug ads that it considered to be in violation of its health care and medicines policy for making “misleading claims to be as effective as prescription drugs.”

Pharmacists should discuss new search capabilities with patients and remind them to continue consulting with them or another health care professional on any medication-related questions.

“We have more tools and resources now than ever, and because of the Web, people can connect to information quickly, so we must reevaluate our methods of patient engagement and counseling,” Ronelle E. Stevens, PharmD, RPh, CACP, previously noted. “Technology and telehealth provide the platform to enforce patient education and more accessible health care. We ought to view these tools as segues for further advancement of health care.”