Google searches for health-related information doubled among patients in the week before an ER visit

KEY TAKEAWAY: Google searches for health-related information doubled among patients in the week before an ER visit, with more than half searching for clinical information related to the reason for their visits, such as the symptoms they were experiencing or potential illnesses they believed they might have. Another 15 percent searched for the location of the emergency department or other logistical information. Patients often searched health-related terms multiple times before heading to the hospital.

Health-related internet searches doubled during the week before patients visited an emergency room, according to a new study from researchers at Penn Medicine who examined consenting patients’ Google search histories in relation to their electronic health records (EHRs). The study, published today in BMJ Open, is believed to be the first of its kind to link private search data to EHRs at the individual level. The study also shows that patients — roughly half — are willing to share their search histories and combine them with their personal health records.

What this tells me

It’s hard to really understand this data without context. For example, were people looking for health information to become more empowered or were they looking o see if they needed to go to the ER? This is especially true when in the last 12 years, annual deductibles in job-based health plans have nearly quadrupled and now average more than $1,300.

A typical co-pay for emergency room services is $50-$100 which may or may not be waived if you are admitted to the hospital. If you do not have health insurance, an ER visit can cost anywhere from $150-$3,000 depending on the severities of your injuries or illness.

This is especially true when almost half of patients who go to the ER at hit with unexpected bills that weren’t covered by their insurance. This also presents an opportunity for new “immediate care” clinics that are spring up across the US. Rather than go to an ER, patients may choose to go to an immediate care clinic where they won’t be hit with extra medical expenses.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, 7 out of 10 patients overcharged for services used an out-of-network emergency room service. Some insurers are putting emergency room visit charges under the microscope and scrutinizing whether the visit was for a true emergency. Others insurers are refusing to pay full charges for emergency room visits if the insurer decides the hospital is charging too much for its emergency room services.